Photo Credit: Football Association of Singapore
Albirex Niigata FC (S) were made to work as they eked out a narrow 1-0 victory over a resolute Hougang United FC side in the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) at Jurong East Stadium on Sunday evening.
After a goal-less first half, Kenya Takahashi struck on 75 minutes to help the White Swans maintain their 100 per cent record in the SPL and extend their winning run at home in all competitions to 30 games.
Fresh from their 3-3 draw with Home United FC on Wednesday, Hougang started brightly and could have taken the lead in the second minute. Shahfiq Ghani, however, fired a 25-yard free-kick straight at Yohsuke Nozawa.
The Cheetahs did well to frustrate the hosts thereafter, with the next chance of note coming on 15 minutes.
Takahashi’s deep cross from the left evaded everyone in the box and found its way to an unmarked Taku Morinaga, who volleyed narrowly over at the far post.
Iqbal Hussain then hit one harmlessly wide off Shahfiq’s knockdown in the 26th minute before Adam Swandi stung the palms of Khairulhin Khalid with a fierce drive from outside the box thirteen minutes later.
In what was arguably the best chance of the half, debutant Jordan Vestering dragged his shot wide under pressure three minutes before the break.
It was the first time Albirex were held at half-time this season on home soil, but they would come close to breaking the deadlock six minutes after the restart. Takahashi broke free after capitalising on a misplaced pass in midfield but was halted in his tracks by Faiz Salleh.
The home side carved out another opportunity in the 69th minute when Adam’s left-wing cross went across the face of goal and found Hiroyoshi Kamata, but the full-back fired over.
The deadlock was finally broken fifteen minutes from the end as Takahashi stepped up to curl an inch-perfect free-kick over the wall and past a hapless Khairulhin.
Substitute Ryujiro Yamanaka and Shuhei Hoshino then had opportunities to extend their lead in the closing stages but were both denied by Khairulhin.
It mattered little though as Albirex clung on for all three points to pull eight points clear at the top, albeit having played a game more than Tampines Rovers FC. They face nine-time league champions Warriors FC at Choa Chu Kang next Sunday, 13 May.
Hougang, meanwhile, remain in eighth with three points from six games as they continue their search for a first win of the season, and will look to break that duck when they host Geylang International FC on Saturday.
Albirex Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “Credit to Hougang for keeping things tight at the back today. It was a difficult game and we didn’t play well at all, but we managed to get the win. This is the type of game my players can learn and improve on, but I’m just happy with the three points.
“We cannot expect the players to perform well for all the matches and this is probably a dip… This is also part of growing and maturing into better players. There will be up and downs throughout the season but with more training, we can expect more good displays from them.”
Hougang Head Coach Philippe Aw: “Yes, it was devastating to lose the game in such a manner… The boys performed very well today and carried out the game plan. We didn’t come here to sit back and watch football, I wanted the players to leave the game with their heads help up high.
“I felt that the team did very well today, especially Illyas (Lee) and Adam (Mitter) who dealt with the threat of their no. 9 (Shuhei Hoshino). I can’t remember Albirex having a good chance before they took the lead. It was a fantastic free-kick of course, but Takahashi should not have been on the pitch to take that. However, this is football and decisions have gone against us this season.
“The young players in the team have done well, especially Jordan Vestering whom I gave a debut to. We will continue to work hard and hopefully a first win will come soon.”
Albirex: Yohsuke Nozawa (GK), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Shuhei Sasahara, Kaishu Yamazaki, Kenya Takahashi, Riku Moriyasu (Ryujiro Yamanaka 74’), Daiki Asaoka, Wataru Murofushi (C), Adam Swandi, Taku Morinaga, Shuhei Hoshino.
Unused subs: Shahul Rayyan (GK), Taiki Itsukaichi (GK), Kazuki Sumiishi, Kodai Sumikawa, Ibuki Inoue, Ryutaro Shibanoki.
Hougang: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Nazrul Nazari, Adam Mitter, Illyas Lee, Faiz Salleh, Amir Zalani (Muhaimin Suhaimi 63’), Syahiran Miswan, Fabian Kwok (C), Jordan Vestering (Fareez Farhan 71’), Shahfiq Ghani (Ashrul Syafeeq 79’), Iqbal Hussain.
Unused subs: Zulfairuuz Rudy (GK), Gerald Ting, Syukri Bashir, Daniel Goh.