Albirex striker-turned-wingback Kawata bags hat-trick
Unorthodox tactical changes pay dividends as Albirex wingback nets hat-trick
HOME UNITED 0
ALBIREX NIIGATA 3
(Atsushi Kawata 48, 71, 89)
His chief striker was struggling for goals, and Albirex Niigata coach Naoki Naruo's solution was to chuck him at right wingback.
While that tactical change seemed bizarre, it paid dividends spectacularly as Albirex thumped Home United 3-0 in their Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League encounter at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, thanks to a hat-trick by Atsushi Kawata.
Kawata grabbed headlines by striking four times in a 5-0 hammering of Garena Young Lions on Feb 20, but then went four games without a goal.
The 23-year-old striker-turned-wingback snapped that barren spell in stunning fashion, netting three headers to put Home to the sword.
Speaking after the game, Naruo said: "In our style of football... our wingers can rush inside and try to score.
"I always believed Kawata could score, even on the right (as a wingback)."
They say fortune favours the brave and Naruo certainly made some radical moves to end a three-game winless run.
Flying wingback Mikiya Yamada, who scored the first S.League goal of the season in an impressive 3-2 win over defending champions Brunei DPMM, was redeployed as one of three centre-backs.
Deep-lying playmaker Masaya Jitozono made way for the more energetic, if less refined, Shunto Inaba.
The masterstroke, of course, was moving Kawata out wide, where he had more space to make use of his intelligent off-the-ball movement.
Just three minutes after the break, he ghosted in at the back post to glance in Naofumi Tanaka's cross to give Albirex the lead.
He doubled the advantage in the 71st min, nodding home Kento Nagasaki's corner.
A minute before the end, Kawata wrapped up his hat-trick with a bullet header off another corner, this time taken by Tanaka.
Home's best chance of pulling a goal back fell to substitute Irfan Fandi, who saw his point-blank shot turned away by Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa.
Home United coach Philippe Aw was less than impressed by his side's defending.
The result left them seventh in the nine-team S.League, with just two wins from seven matches.
They were touted as darkhorses for the title in some circles after making some promising signings, but with almost a third of the season gone, that seems nothing more than a pipe dream.
Said Aw: "We didn't defend our corners properly. That's it.
"In general play, we matched Albirex. It came down to individual errors (while) defending set-pieces.
"It's very disappointing that all three goals were free headers. We can do much better.
"We just have to pick ourselves up and improve on some things."
- HOME: Zulfairuuz Rudy, Juma'at Jantan, Shahrin Saberin, Sim Teck Yi, Sirina Camara, Aqhari Abdullah (Irfan Fandi 59), Song Ui Yong, Syahiran Miswan (Amir Zalani 74), Zulfahmi Arifin, Khairul Nizam (Azhar Sairudin 83), Ken Ilso
- ALBIREX: Yosuke Nozawa, Mikiya Yamada, Atsushi Shirota, Kento Fujihara, Atsushi Kawata, Shunto Inaba (Tatsuro Inui 84), Kento Nagasaki, Naofumi Tanaka, Daichi Ishiyama, Hiroyoshi Kamata (Masaya Jitozono 54), Rui Kumada (Kazuki Mine 64)
- Man of the Match: Atsushi Kawata (Albirex)
LAST NIGHT'S OTHER MATCH:
BRUNEI DPMM 4
(Maududi Hilmi 4, Rafael Ramazotti 50, 81 pen, Ammirul Emmran 58 (og)
GARENA YOUNG LIONS 1
(Yura Indera Putera 44 (og))