Albirex have one hand on the league trophy
Albirex could retain title next week if Tampines and Home can't keep pace at the top
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||HOUGANG UNITED|
|(Ryota Nakai 80)|
Albirex Niigata could sew up their second straight Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League title next Thursday.
Last night, the Japanese outfit saw off a dogged Hougang United 1-0 to notch their 27th consecutive victory at their Jurong East Stadium home ground.
Albirex visit third-from-bottom Balestier Khalsa at the Toa Payoh Stadium next Thursday, knowing that a win will be enough to retain the title, if closest rivals Tampines Rovers and Home United lose before that.
Home play Balestier tonight at the Jalan Besar Stadium, before clashing with Tampines at the Bishan Stadium on Monday.
Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga, however, insisted he was not interested in other teams' results.
"We don't care about what the other teams do," said the former Shimizu S-Pulse coach.
"Before today's game, I told our players that they've come a long way and have improved a lot this season.
"Their good performances is what put us in a good position to win the title.
"And it's important that in the remaining matches, we continue to work hard and show good form, to finish the job."
It's important that in the remaining matches, we continue to work hard and show good form, to finish the job.Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga
Hougang coach Philippe Aw was just 10 minutes away from pulling off a bold tactical gambit.
While most teams that visit Jurong East attempt to stay compact and adopt a "safety-first" mentality, Aw instructed his side to open up and play the ball out from goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin at every opportunity.
There were several hairy moments when the shot-stopper had the ball at his feet, but, by and large, Hougang contained Albirex - the S.League's topscorers with 55 goals - well.
White Swans chief striker Tsubasa Sano came close to breaking the deadlock in the 75th minute when he rounded Ridhuan, but his shot was cleared off the line by Hougang defender Delwinder Singh.
Albirex still got their goal five minutes later, however, when Ryota Nakai found space in the box in the 80th minute and stabbed the ball home.
The goal stretched their winning streak at Jurong East that goes back to November 2015.
Post-game, Aw could only shrug his shoulders. He said: "We came here with a gameplan. We had a different formation and set-up, and we coped with them well.
"At times, it was frightening, but we were trying to play good football, trying to play out from the back.
"We tried to make it difficult for them to retain the title, but we fell short."
The 40-year-old backed Albirex to go on and seal the title in the coming weeks.
"Yes, because they've been consistent in the S.League the whole season," said Aw.
"They're the most professional team and the most hardworking team in Singapore.
"They fully deserve to be champions, and everyone in Singapore football should follow and learn from them, not (complain): 'Oh they've beaten us, they've won again'.
"We must learn from them and change, if not, we'll be in the same place we are now in 10 years' time. If we don't change attitudes, there's no chance."
- Young Lions v Geylang International (7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
- Brunei DPMM FC v Warriors FC (8.15pm, Bandar Seri Begawan)