Albirex cruise to victory over Home in League Cup opener

Albirex Niigata (S) got their League Cup title defence off to a smooth smart on Thursday night as they eased past Home United in a 2-0 win at Bishan Stadium. 

Without 11 first-team players, including the four called up to the Singapore national team, Home was always going to face an uphill task in their Group B opener against the S.League leaders.

Lionel Tan came in for his debut at centre-back while Prime League foreigner Ambroise Begue was also handed a start, with Yeo Hai Ngee also making his first appearance for the club off the bench.

Given the makeshift nature of the Protectors line-up, with only two players having made more than 10 starts this season, they did well to restrict a near full-strength Albirex side to a low margin of victory.

Head coach Philippe Aw was satisfied with the display against a side he tipped as serious contenders to win all three domestic trophies this year.

“It wasn’t easy to come into this game; you can form a first 11 with the players we were missing,” he said.

“We knew the situation [though] and at the end of the day, we want to support the national cause. We took it positively and said ‘let’s give our younger players a chance’.

“For example, I think Lionel did okay. It wasn’t easy for him; he’s on an internship and had to get up early to go to a bank and worked until 4.30pm, before coming here to put in a shift.”

Aw did feel that his inexperienced charges could have done better when they had the ball - a rare occasion given the White Swans’ adeptness at keeping it - and it was from a loss of possession in transition that they were broken down for the first goal.

The Japanese side, who had been patiently probing for gaps against 11 men in red who had their backs to goal, made no mistake when they won the ball in central midfield on 32 minutes.

Hiroyoshi Kamata danced to the right byline before calmly cutting the ball back for Tatsuro Inui, who hit a composed finish into the bottom right corner from 10 yards.

It was the only time they had joy against a mass of bodies in the Home half, forcing Naoki Naruo to instruct his players to utilise the flanks more after the break.

They tested custodian Hyrulnizam Juma’at more often as a result, with Naofumi Tanaka and substitute Kazuki Mine forcing him into good stops.

But the pressure eventually told on 69 minutes as Mine nodded Tanaka’s cross into Kamata’s path and the forward evaded a challenge before sliding the ball across Hyrulnizam into the bottom right corner.

The goalkeeper still had to tip over Mine’s 20-yard drive as the clock ticked down, while Rui Kumada failed to get a decisive touch to another Tanaka cross from close range in the dying minutes.

While Naruo admitted he would have been a happier man had they scored more, he couldn’t argue with a victory achieved by hardly getting out of third gear.

He also declared their intention to hold on to the trophy, particularly with all the local sides weakened by above-mentioned national team call-ups.

“It’s a very good chance for us to win the League Cup title,” he asserted. “We will try to do our best and win [again] this time.”

Main Photo: S.League