Three Stags see red as Albirex collect more silverware in S.League opener

It may be a new season, but it was a familiar scene as Albirex Niigata (S) lifted more silverware on Sunday, scoring two late goals to edge an eight-man Tampines Rovers – yes, eight – 2-1 at the National Stadium. 

Ryutaro Megumi put the Stags ahead just before half-time, but Albirex substitute Shoichiro Sakamoto came off the bench to score two late goals to win the Community Shield and take all three points – the match doubles ups as an S.League game – in front of 15,480 fans.

Juergen Raab’s side managed to break the deadlock against the run of play nine minutes before the interval

For the first 30 minutes it looked like Albirex would steamroll their opponents as they bossed possession, showed fluency in their passing and created all the promising openings.

Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud was kept busy – first grasping a speculative drive from Shuto Inaba, before pushing wide long-range tries from Kento Nagasaki and Ryota Nakai.

In contrast, Tampines only had one decent chance in the same period, with Croatian forward Ivan Dzoni seeing his appeals for a penalty after coming in contact with Albirex centre-back Yasutaka Yanagi ignored by referee Sukhbir Singh.

Centre-back Daniel Bennett then required treatment after a clash of heads with an Albirex player as Tampines’ troubles continued.

Tampines took the lead through newcomer Megumi

However, Juergen Raab’s side managed to break the deadlock against the run of play nine minutes before the interval.

From an Ismadi Mukhtar slide-rule pass, Dzoni found acres of space to whip in a perfectly-weighted right-wing cross for Megumi to head past helpless Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa.

The game was then turned on its head when Tampines’ Yasir Hanapi was sent off for a second bookable offence on 65 minutes

Albirex should have levelled matters three minutes after the restart when Tsubasa Sano played Nagasaki clean through. However, the latter fired wide of the left-hand post when it seemed easier to hit the target.

At the other end, provider Dzoni almost turned scorer on 56 minutes as his left-footed drive in the box was denied by a great Nozawa reflex save.

He had another chance to score three minutes later when the Stags were awarded a penalty, after Bennett was grappled in the box.

Successful with his initial spot kick, it was ruled out for an infringement, and the 23-year-old’s second attempt from 12 yards crashed off the right-hand post.

The game was then turned on its head when Tampines’ Yasir Hanapi was sent off for a second bookable offence on 65 minutes.

It was a physical encounter, especially after half-time

Albirex took full advantage, scoring twice in eight minutes.

From a free-flowing move that cut through the Tampines defence, substitute Sakamoto went through on goal and made no mistakes with a cool finish past the onrushing Izwan on 74 minutes.

The 22-year-old replicated his feat in the 82nd minute by reacting the quickest to poke home left-back Naofumi Tanaka’s low cross and that proved to be the winner for the White Swans.

To rub salt into Tampines’ wounds, they ended the game with just eight men, with captain Madhu Mohana and Ismadi Mukhtar both shown red cards.

Sukhbir left the field to a chorus of boos while Albirex celebrated another trophy, after last season’s quadruple heroics, to conclude an eventful start to the new season. 

Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo