White Swans open early gap at top of table with win over Stags
Defending champions go five points clear at top of S.League table
|TAMPINES ROVERS||ALBIREX NIIGATA|
|(Son Yong Chan 71)||(Naofumi Tanaka 28, 90+3, Tsubasa Sano 47-pen, 78)|
Juergen Raab leapt from the bench, stormed to the touchline and screamed at his charges on the field.
His words were not very audible, but his annoyance was palpable to every one at the Jurong West Stadium.
The Tampines Rovers coach was livid at his players for presenting Albirex Niigata with the opportunity to break away at the top of the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League table.
It was a gift that the Japanese side accepted with glee, running out 4-1 winners to go on 25 points, five clear of Home United at the top of the table.
Tampines are third on 18 points, two behind Home.
"It sounds very clear (that Albirex are going to cruise to the title)... but it's not over. You know what can happen in a season," said Raab after the game, sounding more hopeful than defiant.
For the first 10 minutes of the match, which were played in rainy conditions, Tampines looked like they would become the first team to beat Albirex this year, just nine days after ending the seven-match unbeaten run of fellow title-chasers Home United.
But poor defending of an innocuous free-kick - just 10 metres from the centre line - saw Albirex take a 28th-minute lead through a Naofumi Tanaka header. But even then it did not look like the White Swans were going to saunter to a win.
Then Shakir Hamzah was adjudged to have pulled down Tsubasa Sano inside the Stags' box mere seconds into the second half, conceding a penalty which Sano slammed home.
Just six minutes later, the Stags defender swung an arm at Shoichiro Sakamoto, after the duo got into a tangle near the left touchline.
The Singapore international received a straight red card, leaving his team a man down with 40 minutes left.
And even then the Stags did not surrender.
A 71st-minute goal from Son Yong Chan provided brief hopes of a fightback, but another Sano goal seven minutes later put the game to bed before Tanaka bagged his second on the night, three minutes into added time.
"I can only say my feeling, that we don't have so much luck with referees when we play Albirex," said Raab, in reaction to questions about referee Nathan Chan's penalty and red-card decisions.
Tampines had lost 2-1 to Albirex in the S.League opener in February, ending the game with just eight men, with three players sent off.
But the German was adamant that Shakir should have kept his emotions in check last night.
He said: "I saw that there was provocation from the (Albirex) player, but there was no excuse for that reaction.
"(Shakir) will pay a fine... he punished the team in this situation, and he must learn to manage his emotions.
"Always think what is important for the team. We could have managed a draw with him (on the pitch)."
Abirex coach Yoshinaga Kazuaki acknowledged the Tampines gift, but was circumspect in his response about a second S.League title on the trot.
He said: "Towards the middle of the game, we lost our rhythm a bit... and some of the goals were quite lucky for us.
"This is a top-of-the-table clash, and we were a bit nervous before the game, but it was good for us to win.
"But we must forget about this and focus on the next game - there is no room for complacency in the team.
"No player can rest on his laurels, and we will make sure they continue to work hard in training."
On Friday, Albirex will look to heap more misery on a Garena Young Lions side who lost 2-1 to Home United at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
The Young Lions remain rooted to the bottom of the table with only one point from nine league outings.
Joey Sim, Ismadi Mukhtar (Jufri Taha 57), Mustafic Fahrudin, Daniel Bennett, Shakir Hamzah, Ryutaro Megumi, Fazli Ayob, Son Yong Chan, Yasir Hanapi (Zulfadhmi Suzliman 83), Shahdan Sulaiman, Khairul Amri (Ivan Dzoni 75)
Yosuke Nozawa, Rui Kumada, Takuya Akiyama, Yatsutaka Yanagi, Naofumi Tanaka, Shuto Inaba, Kento Nagasaki, Shoichiro Sakamoto (Ryuya Motoda 79), Ryota Nakai (Shoma Kondo 90+1), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Tsubasa Sano