Ilsø makes goal-scoring return as Home virtually seal fourth

ken_ilso_-_home_-_s.league.jpg

AFC Cup football could return to Bishan Stadium next year after Home United all but sealed a fourth-place finish in the S.League this season on Thursday night. 

A 3-1 victory over newly-crowned champions Albirex Niigata (S) means the uniformed giants will most likely finish as the second-highest ranked local team after Tampines Rovers, which is expected to come with an AFC Cup slot, though the allocations will only be finalised by end of year.

Geylang International, who face Home in their final game, could still overtake them but need to win by at least five goals to make up the goal difference.

Aidil Sharin’s charges entered the clash knowing their fate was in their own hands after their win over Balestier Khalsa last week was coupled with Hougang United’s defeat.

I think they really deserved [the win] with the commitment and attitude they showed… I can’t take away any credit from my boys

- Home coach Aidil Sharin

Home have not beaten Albirex in their last ten meetings but they had plenty of motivation this time round, while their opponents were understandably lacklustre after the high of winning the title.

“The key was that they wanted to get the three points, to be in the AFC Cup next season, and also to beat the champions,” Aidil asserted. “I think they really deserved [the win] with the commitment and attitude they showed… I can’t take away any credit from my boys.”

His counterpart Naoki Naruo admitted as much, even though he still sent out a full-strength side.

“Of course, we wanted to get the result, so it’s very disappointing for me tonight,” he said. “The most important [factor] was that we didn’t have enough motivation.”

shamil_sharif_-_faris_ramli_-_home_-_s.league.jpg

Shamil helped Home regain the lead after the break

Home were aided by a brace from striker Ken Ilsø, who returned from injury to score twice. The Dane was denied by a stunning point-blank save from Yosuke Nozawa on 16 minutes, but would break the deadlock six minutes later.

A flowing move from right to left ended with Song Ui-young setting up Ilsø, who curled a Thierry Henry-esque finish into the bottom right from 12 yards.

However, they were stunned when the White Swans equalised through a stroke of fortune in the 56th minute.

Our pressing game killed Albirex and even up until the 90th minute, they were still attacking.”

- Home coach Aidil Sharin

Ilsø unwittingly headed a corner past his own goalkeeper against the run of play, with the Japanese having hardly threatened before that.

“We knew Albirex are a fit team and can come back anytime,” Aidil said. “But I had to motivate the players to keep pressing them and the boys really did; our pressing game killed Albirex and even up until the 90th minute, they were still attacking.”

It was a test of mettle that the Protectors passed with flying colours as they stormed back to retake the lead through Shamil Sharif, who was first to the rebound in the 65th minute after Nozawa had parried Faris Ramli’s effort.

Azhar Sairudin’s poor first touch let him down 11 minutes later after Ilsø played him in, but the latter would wrap things up four minutes from time.

A sublime reverse pass from substitute Mahathir Azeman sent Aqhari Abdullah clear down the right and he squared for Ilsø to tap in his 18th goal of the season - two behind league top scorer Rafael Ramazotti.

“I believe he can do it,” Aidil said of his star striker’s quest to capture the Golden Boot. The former Home midfielder also had praise for central defensive duo Haziq Azman and Sirina Camara for the way they restricted the league’s most prolific team.

He was also proud of a display that saw Albirex concede three goals for the first time in 57 games and urged Home to end the season on a high.

“Even if the AFC Cup [spot] is in our hands, for me I still want the three points in our last game, “ Aidil asserted. “I believe the boys also want to finish off with three points.”

Photos: S.League