Title won but no celebrations for Albirex
Japanese side drop points for the first time this season but retain crown with six games to spare
None of them dropped to their knees at the final whistle.
There were neither clenched fists raised to the Toa Payoh night sky, nor shouts of joy, only heads hung low.
One official said it felt like a funeral, and in many ways it was - for domestic football in Singapore.
Albirex Niigata dropped points for the first time in this season's Singapore Premier League (SPL) yesterday, managing only a 1-1 draw with Balestier Khalsa at the Toa Payoh Stadium, but it was enough for the Japanese side to secure the title - with six games to spare.
So despite having a new name, new branding, new initiatives and new rules, the inaugural season of the SPL appears to be a blast from the past, with Albirex cantering to a third consecutive league title.
And they will secure every major domestic trophy on offer for three years in a row if they manage to succeed in the upcoming RHB Singapore Cup.
"We knew a draw was enough to be champions, but we always set out to win every game," said Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga after watching set-piece specialist Kenya Takahashi score with a 31st-minute free-kick before Hazzuwan Halim levelled within two minutes of the restart with a sensational dipping volley from the top of the box.
He then drew attention to an April article in The New Paper as a key factor that fuelled the soaring White Swans.
"It came after our second friendly match before the season, and we conceded a goal to the Young Lions, then drew that game, and many people - including (Balestier coach) Marko Kraljevic - said that we are not as good as we were last year.
"We used that article as motivation for the season. But now you are asking me if winning the title was so easy. Can you see the irony of it all?"
It did look easy. Before last night, Albirex had won all 17 of their league games this season, and even received a dressing-down from Yoshinaga for a poor performance in last Wednesday's 5-1 win over the Young Lions.
And they managed all that with a much changed squad due to SPL regulations this season.
This term, their team have an average age of just 23.3 years following a roster overhaul that features nine U-21 and nine U-23 Japanese players, one over-23 Japanese player and two U-23 Singaporeans.
"They are the champions and - by far - have played the best football all year. I'm very happy it was us that were the first ones to take points off them, something one of the top SPL clubs should have done," said Kraljevic.
"But I'm not surprised. In a country like Japan that plays at the World Cup, their youth development is top notch. Each Under-23 player would have 15 years of good training behind them - they are technically and physically very good."
Kraljevic believes it was a league policy shift that helped strengthen Albirex's hand.
"They are the best team at the moment, but they dominated the league only when the league reduced the number of foreign players from five to three," he argued.
In 2015, league rules allowed clubs to play up to five foreign players, but that number was reduced to three in 2016, and has dropped even further to two this year.
Regulations came with another factor that he believes weakened local sides more - the need to start with three U-23 players in every match, although Albirex were also made to reduce the overall age of their squad.