Albirex Niigata (Singapore) scored twice in the final 15 minutes to complete a memorable come-back win against Balestier Khalsa and claim the 2015 TNP League Cup at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Balestier led for large periods of the game after Miroslav Kristic’s 15th minute opener, but it was the determined White Swans who picked up the victory via late goals from Fumiya Kogure and substitute Kento Nagasaki.
It was Albirex who started off better of the two sides as they created three chances in the first 11 minutes via set pieces.
Kento Fujihara first headed wide from Kogure’s freekick, before Atsushi Kawata saw his 25-yard freekick parried by Balestier keeper Zaiful Nizam.
Rion Taki then benefited from a Takahiro Saito flick-on from Kogure’s corner, but he was unable to keep his close-range header down.
Those misses prove costly as Balestier scored against the run of play on 15 minutes.
Left winger Zulkiffli Hassim received a neat slide-rule pass from Tarik Cmajcanin, before squaring the ball across the 18-yard box for Kristic to fire a first-time finish past Yosuke Nozawa.
Reeling from the first goal they had conceded in this year’s tournament, Albirex nearly went two down 14 minutes later.
Once again it was Kristic who broke free after Zulkiffli’s cross, but this time round Nozawa was quick off his line to close the 25-year-old down.
At the other end, Albirex struggled to impose themselves on proceedings as they went into the half-time break a goal down.
Nagasaki was thrown on 10 minutes after the restart to replace the ineffectual Rui Kumada, but there seemed to be little way past the impregnable Balestier centre-back pairing of Emir Lotinac and Igor Cerina.
Even when the ball got past the duo on 67 minutes to reach a lurking Kogure just outside the box, Zaiful was there to sweep the danger away.
Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama opted for yet another change, bringing on Shotaro Ihata for a jaded Taki two minutes later and it proved to be an inspired move.
With 14 minutes of regulation time left, the 28-year-old intelligently flicked on a long ball into the path of Kogure, who raced through on goal before slotting coolly underneath the onrushing Zaiful for the equalizer.
At 1-1, it looked like the game was heading for extra time before Nagasaki’s decisive intervention on 89 minutes.
Expertly controlling a Shun Inaba lofted ball into the box, the 25-year-old wasted little time in arrowing a shot into the top left corner for the winner.
To compound matters for Balestier, goalscorer Kristic was dismissed for a straight red card thereafter for elbowing Ihata.
The final whistle soon sounded as the White Swans celebrated only their second ever trophy – the first being the 2011 League Cup – in their 12-year history.
Photo: Weixiang Lim