Resolute Albirex defeat Tampines 2-1 to go back top of SPL
Defending champions stage comeback win to end losing run against Tampines
Watching the first half from the bench, Kuraba Kondo could barely sit still, itching to come on and make the difference for Albirex Niigata against Tampines Rovers.
His wishes were answered as the 18-year-old half-time substitute netted a 63rd-minute winner in a 2-1 victory for Albirex at the Jurong East Stadium last night, sending the Japanese side back to the top of the Singapore Premier League standings.
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||TAMPINES ROVERS|
|(Ryoya Taniguchi 21, Kuraba Kondo 63)||(Boris Kopitovic 9)|
Albirex lead the way with 14 points from six matches, a point above Hougang United.
The result was all the more important given that the defending champions broke a three-match losing streak against the Stags.
Captain Kazuki Hashioka had said before the match that he and his teammates had a "special feeling" towards the Stags, given that Tampines had won the last three encounters.
The euphoria of the win, despite it being only six games into the season, showed at full-time with Albirex's players punching the air and dropping to the turf.
Said Kondo through a translator: "During the first half, I was really hoping that I would come on and score, so I am very happy to have done exactly that. At half-time, I was told by coach that I need to look for spaces, hold the ball and look for good chances.
"It was important that we won today especially because of the two defeats last season.
"This win and goal give me the motivation to score more goals this season and help my team to more victories."
Tampines opened accounts in the ninth minute when Montenegrin duo Armin Bosnjak and Boris Kopitovic combined efficiently. Bosnjak cut back onto his stronger right foot from the left flank and crossed it for Kopitovic to meet the delivery with an outstretched leg just in front of Japanese goalkeeper Takahiro Koga.
Albirex equalised in the 21st minute after lovely play down the left saw Yu Tokiwa cross for Ryoya Taniguchi to apply the finish in the box.
In the 63rd minute, the Stags failed to clear the lines effectively. Kondo was teed up just inside the box and his shot took a deflection off Madhu Mohana before finding the back of the net.
Stags coach Gavin Lee said: ''Credit to Albirex today. They created chances and took them. I thought we fatigued ourselves unnecessarily in the first half by making some errors in our decision making. We dropped too deep and we should have done a lot better in that area. ''
I know the level this team can get to and the challenge is to get ourselves to that. ''
I know the boys can do it and we'll be looking ahead to that.''
In last night's other match, Lion City Sailors thrashed Geylang International 8-0 at Our Tampines Hub to move into third place, with the Sailors' Brazilian playmaker Diego Lopes netting a hat-trick - his first goals in Singapore football .