Albirex Niigata (S) vs Warriors FC: Can the Warriors do it again?
Albirex Niigata (S)’s chance to go ten points clear at the top.
Albirex Niigata (S) Form
- Hougang United 3-3 Albirex (Friendly)
- Albirex 2-0 Geylang International (S.League)
- Albirex 6-0 Balestier Khalsa (S.League)
- Albirex 3-0 Garena Young Lions (S.League)
- DPMM 1-2 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League)
Warriors FC Form
- Geylang International 2-1 Warriors (SG Cup)
- Warriors 1-1 Balestier Khalsa (S.League)
- Warriors 0-0 Tampines Rovers (S.League)
- Garena Young Lions 3-1 Warriors (S.League)
- Warriors 1-1 Brunei DPMM (S.League)
It has been a near-perfect season for Albirex's as they dropped just seven points out of a possible 36 to sit at the top with a considerable seven-point lead over nearest challengers Tampines Rovers.
The White Swans have also won their last seven matches, scoring 19 and conceding just once in the process – prompting the bookmakers to slash the odds on them winning their first-ever S.League title.
While everything looks rosy at the moment, it is good to note that Brunei DPMM also won seven straight games and were seven points ahead at a similar stage in the 2014 season, before eventually conceding the championship to Warriors FC.
Coincidentally the Warriors are the only side to beat them this season, so the league leaders should not be taking anything for granted in this upcoming game.
Albirex will also need to learn from last weekend’s friendly match against Hougang United where they were held to a 3-3 draw after conceding all three goals in the final 16 minutes.
Meanwhile Warriors are currently on their worst run of form for years, having failed to win their last nine matches in all competitions since the surprise 2-0 win over the White Swans in March.
Their lacklustre ways meant they are now languishing third from bottom in the nine-team table, a massive 17 points off the summit.
Any hopes of a tenth league championship is practically extinguished by now and a more realistic target for the uniformed outfit now is to attain a top-four finish.
While they had beaten Albirex on the synthetic pitch on Jalan Besar three months ago, it is a different prospect altogether facing the all-Japanese outfit on the astro turf at Jurong East.
Opponents have been struggling to get used to the playing surface there, with Albirex winning all four home games this season – scoring 12 and conceding none.
Should the White Swans prevail again, they will extend their lead at the top to 10 points – putting further pressure on Tampines and Home United, both whom play 24 hours later.
Albirex are ready to go, with no major injuries or suspensions reported ahead of this game.
Warriors are similarly in good health, with utility man Syaqir Sulaiman returning from suspension while winger Ignatius Ang is fit again after recovering from an ankle injury.
Shaiful Esah may also see game time after featuring in a Prime League match over the weekend, but Ismail Yunos may not be available due to reservist.
It will also be interesting to see if Nikola Rak returns to the lineup, at the expense of Marijan Suto, who has been scoring for fun at the Prime League level.
Key Battle: Masaya Jitozono vs Poh Yifeng
Having been relegated as an impact substitute in recent times, Jitozono may well return to the starting 11 for this game.
The 26-year-old came off the bench to score a stunner from distance two weeks ago against Geylang, before hitting a brace in the 3-3 friendly draw with Hougang.
The man in charge of stopping the classy left-footed playmaker should be Poh, who does all the dirty work in the middle of the park for the Warriors.
An experienced S.League campaigner, the 29-year-old will need to use his know-how to stop Jitozono from spraying his visionary passes.
Naoki Naruo has whipped Albirex into an efficient outfit since taking over from Tatsuyuki Okuyama - effective upfront and tight at the back.
The 41-year-old has high demands of his players, often emphasising on what they need to improve on despite them getting good results so far.
Meanwhile Razif Onn is still trying to steady the Warriors ship in his third spell at the club, having attained two draws and one defeat so far.
The 62-year-old is a well-respected youth coach, but the jury is still out on whether he can excel at the professional level.
Last Five Meetings
- Albirex 2-3 Warriors (Friendly, Apr ‘16)
- Warriors 2-0 Albirex (S.League, Mar ’16)
- Warriors 1-2 Albirex (S.League, Oct ’15)
- Albirex 0-4 Warriors (S.League, May ’15)
- Warriors 0-6 Albirex (S.League, Mar ’15)
Facts and Figures
Warriors FC has the slight upper hand based on head-to-head records. In 40 match-ups, they won 22 while Albirex triumphed 15 times. The other three matches ended in draws.
Both sides last met at Jurong East in May 2015, with the Warriors picking up a stunning 4-0 victory.
The Warriors took the lead in their last two matches, but ultimately failed to achieve a win.
Warriors hit man Jonathan Behe has scored just twice in his last six outings.
Warriors may be able to nick a point if they deploy the right game plan to stifle Albirex. Could be a shock 1-1 draw in store.