Albirex earn 3-2 win at the death to go 10 clear

Nothing can stop Albirex Niigata (S) in their pursuit for a first S.League title at the moment as they edged nine-man Warriors FC 3-2 at Jurong East Stadium on Friday night to go 10 points clear at the top.  

It had looked like they would have to settle for a rare draw after Nikola Rak and Jonathan Behe had cancelled out Tatsuro Inui’s early brace.

However, substitute Daichi Ishiyama popped up two minutes from time to turn one point into three and help the White Swans notch up their eighth successive league win.

Albirex had looked good for the first half-hour with some slick passing movement and eventually broke the deadlock on 24 minutes.

Inui got the rub of the green for following up on an earlier shot which came off the post, as Syaqir Sulaiman’s intended clearance came off his knee before going past Warriors goalkeeper Yazid Yasin.

The 27-year-old was at it again two minutes later as he swept home a brilliant first-time finish inside the box, after being found by Naofumi Tanaka’s low left-wing cross.

The all-Japanese outfit were unable to sustain the strong start as they conceded for the first time at home this season in the 37th minute.

Croatian midfielder Rak skipped past a couple of challenges before firing home a left-footed grounder that evaded the despairing dive of Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa.

That proved to be a real lifeline for the Warriors as they began to put together some decent moves in the second half.

Who can stop Albirex? No one can, at the moment

Their efforts paid off in the 65th minute when French hot shot Behe curled home the equaliser from just inside the area after being found by Rak’s right-wing cross.

Credit to Albirex, they did not let their heads go down after that goal and eventually grabbed the match-winner on 88 minutes.

After the Warriors failed to clear their lines, Ishiyama got just ahead of his marker Kento Fukuda to loop the ball over a helpless Yazid to send the home fans wild.

The visitors could have grabbed a share of the spoils late on, but Behe could only fire straight at Nozawa from close range.

To rub salt into their wounds, captain Zulfadli Zainal Abidin and substitute Ismail Yunos were both dismissed in injury time as the nine-time champions ended the game with just nine men on the pitch.

Warriors caretaker coach Razif Onn was understandably disappointed to see his side going a ninth league game without a game and felt that they did enough to earn a point.

“In terms of performance, this is the best since I took over,” reflected the 62-year-old. “In the first half, we did not anticipate their fast attacks, but we showed some good combination play to score the goals and come back into the game.  

“But we were let down by some defensive lapses from our centre-backs. Such things should not happen in the last few minutes of the game.

Meanwhile Albirex counterpart Naoki Naruo refused to be drawn into talks that his side are already champions-elect.

“Yes, we have a 10-point lead, but our upcoming games are all very difficult,” said the 41-year-old. “What’s important now is to keep going and keep winning games.”

Photos: S.League