Albirex shoot down stubborn Eagles
Switch of positions for goalscorer Nakai works wonders for defending champions
|GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL||ALBIREX NIIGATA|
|(Ryota Nakai 53)|
Are there any teams in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League who can stop Albirex Niigata from retaining their title?
At Jalan Besar Stadium last night, Geylang International were the latest team who failed in their bid to stop the Albirex Express.
The Eagles built a great wall that stayed firm in the first half, only for the White Swans to chip away at it until they finally got the match-winner through Ryota Nakai in the 53rd minute.
After seeing off a stubborn Geylang side 1-0, Albirex have now won seven and drawn one of their opening eight league games.
With 22 points at the summit, they have a five-point lead over Home United, who take on Tampines Rovers tonight.
With defender Anders Aplin suspended, Geylang coach Hasrin Jailani opted for a five-man backline. Fullbacks Faritz Hameed and Al-Qaasimy Rahman were drafted in to partner Yuki Ichikawa in centre defence.
The trio, along with left back Safirul Sulaiman and 21-year-old Darren Teh on the right, stood so firm that goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari was relatively untroubled.
Geylang defended well from the front too, but that also left striker Victor Coto an isolated figure up front.
Perhaps eager to show his abilities, Coto displayed fine touches, but was also a little selfish to shoot on occasions when his teammates were in better positions.
Albirex coach Yoshinaga Kazuaki tweaked his tactics in the second half, switching Nakai from the left flank to a more central position, and was duly rewarded.
Amy Recha had just forced Yosuke Nozawa into a flying save at the other end, when Albirex broke forward.
The 22-year-old Nakai showed good pace to beat the Geylang defence and slot the ball past Syazwan for his fourth goal of the season.
Coto had the best chance to equalise when he skilfully took down a long ball and beat his marker, only to see Nozawa quickly narrow the angle to block his 68th-minute effort.
As the Eagles collapsed in frustration after the narrow defeat which sees them drop to sixth, the Albirex players merrily doused their chairman Daisuke Korenaga with water as he had just turned 40 on Wednesday.
Kazuaki said: "We wanted three points as a present for our chairman, and we had to work very hard for it.
"After Round 1, we have scored 21 and conceded five.
"Some of these goals we let in were unnecessary because they were a result of our mistakes.
"If we can get rid of these mistakes, then I can say with more confidence that we will march towards the title."
Meanwhile, Hasrin was disappointed with the result but not his team's performance.
He added: "With the injuries and suspensions we have, I thought we did well.
"At least we are finding consistency at the back, so we now have to work on how to be more composed in front of goal and score more."
In last night's other match, Hougang United stunned fourth-placed Warriors FC 2-0 at Choa Chu Kang Stadium with goals from Fumiya Kogure and Fareez Farhan to leapfrog Geylang into fifth position.
LAST NIGHT’S OTHER RESULT
- Warriors FC 0 Hougang United 2
- Tampines Rovers v Home United
(7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
- Garena Young Lions v Brunei DPMM
(7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)