Warriors FC proved to be Albirex Niigata (S)’s nemesis once again as they picked up a 2-0 victory in Friday night’s game at Jalan Besar Stadium, throwing the leaders' title charge into a temporary halt.
Warriors may be languishing at the wrong end of the table, but the nine-time champions came up good against S.League leaders Albirex Niigata (S) and picked up the three points in a classic smash-and-grab performance.
Winger Ridhuan Muhammad set them on the way after just nine minutes as he rose well in the box to direct Madhu Mohana’s long throw past rooted Albirex keeper Eita Kasagawa.
Albirex were largely dominant for the rest of the game, but was unable to produce a comeback due to some solid defending from the Warriors, as well as their own wastefulness.
Top scorer Atsushi Kawata headed Hiroyoshi Kamata’s cross onto the woodwork after 12 minutes, with Warriors custodian Yazid Yasin beaten.
Six minutes later, playmaker Tatsuro Inui curled just wide of the left-hand post from 20 yards out.
Just before the break, Naofumi Tanaka looked odds-on to score in the box after a half-cleared corner, but Warriors centre-back Madhu was at the right place at the right time to produce a goal-saving block.
The chances kept coming for Albirex in the second half with Kawata somehow heading wide from Daichi Ishiyama’s teasing left-wing cross on 55 minutes.
Subsitute Masaya Jitozono fired just wide from outside the box just seconds after coming on, before putting in a great inswinging corner which Atsushi Shirota headed just over.
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo threw on big man Kazuki Mine in the final 15 minutes, but there was no way past a stout Warriors backline led by Hafiz Osman.
Mine did well to win the ball off a Warriors player before setting up Kawata, but the latter curled over with just Yazid to beat.
Inui then slashed agonisingly wide of the right-hand post after Yazid had punched clear.
The White Swans paid the price for their profligacy four minutes before the end, with French hotshot Jonathan Behe – who worked hard all game to chase lost causes – heading home Shaiful Esah’s inswinging corner to make it 2-0 to the Warriors and kill off any hopes of a comeback.
This result certainly kept the title race alive, with Tampines Rovers having the chance to close the gap between them and Albirex to just four points when they host Brunei DPMM on Saturday night.
Naruo wants his side to quickly forget this defeat and focus on their next game, which is against Hougang United two weeks later at the same venue.
“I want the players to change their mindsets, to still be confident after losing this game,” said the 41-year-old. “Like I always say, I want us to focus game by game.
“Warriors is a very strong team. So once we gave them the first goal, it was really difficult to come back. Today we conceded two goals to set-pieces and I want them to improve on that in the next game.”
Meanwhile, victorious counterpart Onn is happy to see his side produce a performance that belied their underwhelming position in the S.League table.
“I think it’s the game plan, our tactics to play against them worked really well,” said the 62-year-old. “After our last game (a 1-1 draw against Balestier Khalsa), we were talking about the players not showing enough in terms of commitment.
“Today we showed a lot of hunger and that we can play good football. The two headed goals were very fortunate, but that’s the luck of football.”