Albirex wary of Toa Payoh jinx
Albirex can all but seal S.League title tonight, but must overcome poor form at Balestier
|BALESTIER KHALSA||ALBIREX NIIGATA|
Toa Payoh Stadium has proven to be a tricky ground in recent times for Albirex Niigata, who have yet to win there in four S.League matches.
For their last win over Balestier Khalsa at the venue, one has to go back to April 2013.
But, with the chance to all but seal the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League title at Toa Payoh tonight, the White Swans will be expected to go in with all guns blazing.
A win over Balestier will put the league leaders on 56 points, with only another two games to go.
Second-placed Tampines will also reach 56 points if they win their remaining three games, but they have a vastly inferior goal difference of plus-20, compared to Albirex's plus-42.
Third-placed Home United can collect a maximum of only 55 points.
Even with the odds so heavily in their favour, Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga is still expecting 100 per cent effort from his side.
On Tuesday, the 49-year-old posted a picture of the S.League table on social media, with the caption: "The last three matches... (are) battles where true strength is questioned."
Yoshinaga, a former first-team coach at J.League giants Shimizu S-Pulse, has set his side a target of 60 points.
There will be no chance of the team taking it easy against Balestier tonight, added Albirex general manager Koh Mui Tee.
Koh said: "Toa Payoh has always been a tough away ground for us, and we seldom get good results there.
"The pitch is natural grass (Albirex's home ground is artificial) and is quite hard.
"In fact, we went down to have a look at the pitch condition last week, and we found it a bit bumpy, so it may pose a problem for our team.
"Plus, we know Balestier will not be pushovers.
"But, if you want to be champions, you have to overcome all difficulties and any odds against you."
Albirex also have a RHB Singapore Cup final against Philippine side Global FC on Nov 25, so they will be motivated to end their league campaign on a high.
But Koh feels that it will be a mistake to start thinking about the final now.
He said: "I don't want to talk about the cup final... that would be thinking too far.
"We have been very consistent with our approach of taking games one at a time, and we won't deviate from that towards the end of the season.
"So, we will just concentrate on the game against Balestier for now."
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic is in bullish mood despite his side's lowly position in the table - they are third from bottom in the nine-team league.
He will no doubt be encouraged by his side's slight improvement recently. They won three and drew three of their last 10 matches.
Said the German-born Croat: "We have seven new players in our first XI this year, so it took a while for the team to gel, but everything is falling into place now.
"The boys are playing well, and I think playing at Toa Payoh gives us a bit of an edge.
"We are getting better with every game, and I think we can play a good game against Albirex, and take a point or even three from them."