Albirex Niigata (S) 1 Tampines Rovers 0: Inui's penalty ends Stags’ unbeaten run

The visitors slipped to fourth in the table after succumbing to the S.League leaders on Saturday night.

Boasting names like Jermaine Pennant, Billy Mehmet and Atsushi Kawata, this game had the makings of a spectacle.

However, the 2,550 fans at Jurong East Stadium only witnessed a goal through Tatsuro Inui’s penalty in the 70th minute, a strike that ended Tampines Rover’s unbeaten run in the S.League.

For most of the game, it seemed like the players were practising for the Rugby Sevens with plenty of shots over the bar, one even landing on the roadside just outside the stadium.

Tampines started the game well and the outcome could have been different if Billy Mehmet had done better with his effort in the 2nd minute. Jordan Webb left Mikiya Yamada for dead and put in a scrumptious ball for the striker, whose attempt was saved by Yosuke Nozawa.

Unlike the game against Balestier Khalsa in which Ismadi Mukhtar and Jermaine Pennant were utilised down the flanks more, this game saw Jordan Webb and Shakir Hamzah more involved in an attempt to test makeshift Albirex full-back Atsushi Kawata. However, the forward put in a decent shift in his new role to ward off the two.

The Stags had their best chance of the first half through Shakir Hamzah who danced past both Yamada and Kawata before letting off a powerful shot which was met by an equally great save from Nozawa.

The deadlock was finally broken when Atsushi Shirota was fouled by Fahrudin Mustafic. Celebrating his 35th birthday, Fahrudin would have felt that he was hard done by because the penalty looked to be a soft one.

Minutes after the goal, Pennant whipped in a perfect cross but Fazrul Nawaz managed to sky his shot from point-blank range.  His inefficiency in front of goal would continue after last week’s showing against Balestier, during which he missed a couple of sitters. The striker continues to struggle and is yet to recapture his form last season with Warriors, in which he bagged 18 goals.

Having seen his team’s unbeaten run come to a halt, V. Sundramoorthy cut a despondent figure during the press conference.

“If we had played well and lost it wouldn’t be as bad, but it is sad to see that we lost the game this way. It was a game with end-to-end action, we had our chances but we didn’t take them,” said the 50-year-old.

On Fazrul’s miss, Sundram added: “Last season, every ball he touched went in but this season is different for him. He is experienced enough to come back stronger.”

His Albirex counterpart Naoki Naruo pointed to defensive contribution as one of the key factors that has propelled them to the top of the table.

“A defensive side is the most important thing for the team and a good defence is what will help you to win games,” he said.

“Today it showed and that is why we were able to put in this type of performance.”

Tampines now find themselves lying in fourth place. Albirex travel to Brunei next week to face DPMM while the Stags are away to Geylang International.

Photo: S.League