Home stun champions
Protectors down champions and all but seal AFC Cup spot
HOME UNITED 3
(Ken Ilso 22, 86, Shamil Sharif 65)
ALBIREX NIIGATA 1
(Ken Ilso 57-og)
Home United virtually sealed a spot in next season's AFC Cup last night, after a 3-1 win over newly minted Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League champions Albirex Niigata at the Bishan Stadium.
With just one game to go, the Protectors are practically assured of fourth spot, making them the second-highest placed local team and earning them a berth in the continental competition.
Only a catastrophic five-goal collapse in their final game next Thursday against fifth-placed Geylang International - who beat Hougang United 1-0 at the Hougang Stadium in last night's other match - would see them drop out at the expense of the Eagles.
Home coach Aidil Sharin, however, is not leaving anything to chance, and said he was fully focused on next week's game.
"As far as I'm concerned, we still have one more job to do against Geylang, even if (qualification for the AFC Cup) is in our hands," said the 39-year-old coach.
"I still want the three points in our last game and I know our boys also want the same thing."
Home got off to the perfect start last night, with star striker Ken Ilso marking his return from injury by opening the scoring in the 22nd minute.
After a slick move which saw Faris Ramli, Juma'at Jantan and Song Ui Yong work the ball into the box, the Danish marksman coolly curled his effort beyond Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa.
Albirex looked uncharacteristically sluggish after the high of sealing their first S.League title six days earlier, but they were handed a lifeline in the 57th minute when Kento Nagasaki's corner-kick cannoned off Ilso and ended up in the Home net.
But Aidil's charges were determined to seize the AFC Cup spot, and this was typified by Shamil Sharif just eight minutes after Albirex's equaliser.
Faris found himself through on goal, and, while his finish was initially saved by Nozawa, Shamil lunged at the rebound just ahead of an Albirex defender to put his side in front again.
The three points were sealed four minutes before the end, when youngster Mahathir Azeman showed great vision to play a clever reverse pass for Aqhari Abdullah, who set up Ilso for an easy tap-in.
The win ended Home's Albirex hoodoo - they had lost five previous games to the Japanese side, and had not won in 11 straight attempts.
Said Aidil: "The key today was the boys really wanted the three points and that AFC Cup spot. They also wanted to beat the S.League champions.
"They deserve it for the commitment and effort they put in.
"I still believe the team can play better. They just have to believe they can beat any team in the league."
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo, meanwhile, was concerned by the team's performance, especially with the RHB Singapore Cup final against Tampines Rovers on Oct 29 - which would complete an unprecedented quadruple - looming.
"The most important thing is motivation, which we lacked a bit today," he said.
"Of course I am a bit worried, but the players gave their best to win the title last week... (and) we can learn from tonight and improve."
- HOME: Eko Pradana, Shahrin Saberin, Haziq Azman (Abdil Qaiyyim 63), Sirina Camara, Juma'at Jantan, Shamil Sharif, Song Ui Yong (Zulfahmi Arifin 77), Aqhari Abdullah, Faris Ramli, Azhar Sairudin (Mahathir Azeman 84), Ken Ilso
- ALBIREX: Yosuke Nozawa, Kento Fujihara (Tomoki Menda 46), Atsushi Shirota, Kazuki Mine (Rui Kumada 80), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Shuto Inaba, Masaya Jitozono, Kento Nagasaki, Naofumi Tanaka, Daichi Ishiyama (Tatsuro Inui 56), Atsushi Kawata