Albirex trying to recover momentum
Leaders look to rediscover form against tricky foes
HOUGANG UNITED v ALBIREX NIIGATA
(Tomorrow, 8pm, Hougang Stadium)
They looked unstoppable in the first half of the season.
Seven points clear at the top of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League table at the halfway point, Albirex Niigata's pre-season target of winning a first title suddenly didn't seem at all off the mark.
But, last Friday, they needed an 88th-injury-time goal to see off lowly Warriors FC 3-2 at their Jurong East Stadium home.
Tomorrow, Albirex visit Hougang United, who can be tough nuts to crack on their day.
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo put his team's below-par performance down to a massive gap of 20 days since their last S.League fixture, a 2-0 win over Geylang International on May 20.
"After the international break, our players were stiff and they were pressured with keeping our winning streak going," he said.
"When we met them (Warriors) the last time, we lost (2-0 in March) and that made our players nervous.
"The condition of the players and atmosphere in the team were good, but the fact that we had 20-day break made it more difficult for the players."
ON A ROLL
The win over the Warriors did see Albirex stretch their winning streak to eight games. And Naruo is confident his side will rediscover top form again.
"We want to recover our confidence in our next match against Hougang," said the 41-year-old coach. "They have not won recently and they will be motivated to take three points from us.
"But I believe that my team will show their spirit and win."
Hougang coach K Balagumaran, whose side started the season well enough to top the table but are now on a five-game winless streak, said Albirex's struggles in their last game showed they can be beaten.
"They have strong forwards and a solid defence but the players seem to run out of energy fast in the second half, so we need to capitalise on that," he said.
"We have always been the underdogs but one thing's for sure, we'll definitely give them a good fight."