Title rivals share spoils
Both teams rue missed opportunity to strengthen hopes in race for S.League crown
ALBIREX NIIGATA 0
BRUNEI DPMM 0
There was plenty on the line at Jalan Besar Stadium last night, as two of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League's title contenders locked horns in what promised to be a tense and enthralling encounter.
A win for Brunei DPMM would have seen them stretch their lead at the top to six points, while Albirex Niigata could have moved just one point behind the leaders with a victory of their own.
With so much at stake, it was perhaps understandable when both sides refused to be overly ambitious and, in the end, were happy enough with a 0-0 stalemate.
It was the Bruneian outfit that enjoyed the better of the proceedings as they created a host of decent openings, with Portuguese star forward Paulo Sergio, in particular, causing all sorts of problems for the opposing defence.
But the visitors' failure to capitalise on their dominance means that - for now - they have to settle for a four-point lead over Albirex and Warriors FC.
DPMM coach Steve Kean refused to be overly critical of his charges.
"Of course, I'm disappointed with the result," said the former Blackburn Rovers manager.
"Although we were up against a good side, you have to take each game on its own merits.
"Based on the balance of play and the fact we created probably eight or nine good chances, we definitely feel we deserved the three points.
"But I thought the players did really well to carry out our game plan… we didn't let Albirex do what they're usually good at and we frustrated them.
"Sometimes you just don't get a break in front of goal but, apart from that, we were excellent, and I'm definitely satisfied with the performance."
Showing plenty of spirit from the opening whistle, DPMM had an excellent chance in the 12th minute but were denied by a fine reflex save from Yosuke Nozawa, after Brian McLean had met Azwan Ali's corner with a bullet header.
Maududi Hilmi was next to threaten but blazed over wastefully after pouncing on a loose ball at the far post, before the usually lethal Rafael Ramazotti could only send a tame effort at Nozawa after being played in by Sergio's slide-rule pass.
Albirex did look more dangerous after half-time but Atsushi Kawata spurned an excellent opportunity in the 64th minute, firing over from a tight angle with only Wardun Yussof to beat after running onto an incisive through-ball by Shun Inaba.
Adi Said and Sergio both failed to find the target from decent chances as the game entered the closing stages, and it looked as though they would be punished when the White Swans had one final chance to steal all three points with two minutes remaining.
However, Inaba contrived to scuff his shot wide from inside the six-yard box after McLean had nodded the ball straight at him.
Coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama conceded it had been a missed opportunity to pile on the pressure.
"Of course, this match was a real chance for us to close in on DPMM and I'm disappointed with the result," he said.
"We're always confident in our defence and we did that well again, but we could have done much better in the attacking third.
"Still, the title race is far from over and we'll just continue working hard and aim to win the rest of our games."
- ALBIREX NIIGATA: Yosuke Nozawa, Mikiya Yamada, Takahiro Saito, Kento Fujihara, Itsuki Yamada, Hikaru Mizuno, Shun Inaba, Fumiya Kogure, Atsushi Kawata, Rion Taki (Kento Nagasaki 59), Shotaro Ihata (Rui Kumada 89).
- BRUNEI DPMM: Wardun Yussof, Helmi Zambin, Boris Raspudic, Brian McLean, Sairol Sahari (Adi Said 64), Rosmin Kamis, Maududi Hilmi (Najib Tarif 83), Azwan Saleh, Azwan Ali, Paulo Sergio, Rafael Ramazotti.
- TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Paulo Sergio (Brunei DPMM)