By Suhas BhatFollow @@suhasrbhat
Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium
In a game lacking in any real notable incidents, Albirex wasted a chance to open the scoring in the 39th minute when Kazuki Sakamoto saw his spot-kick saved by stand-in captain Fadhil Salim, adding to the two penalty saves he made his side's thrilling 3-3 draw with DPMM FC last week.
However, there was little the 30-year-old could do three minutes later to keep out a blistering effort from Nagasawa, who became the fourth different scorer for the White Swans in the 2013 Great Eastern-YEO's S.League season.
The victory was ultimately a deserving one for the Japanese, who had been the dominant side for much of the first half as the duo of Bruno Castanheira and Sakamoto troubled Fadhil’s goal with alarming regularity. The former saw an effort go straight into the keeper’s hands as early as the sixth minute, while Sakamoto twice scuffed opportunities to put his side ahead when presented with chances on the rebound.
The Cheetahs were clearly struggling to get into gear although they did their best to press high up the pitch and force the Albirex backline to squander away possession. However, the likes of Robert Eziakor, Liam Shotton and Mamadou Diallo failed to string together any decent attacks and were largely confined to shots from distance.
Azhar Sairudin did however finally trouble Albirex custodian Hiroaki Hara in the 30th minute with a scorcher in this manner, although the 34-year-old veteran managed to tip it out for a corner.
Six minutes later, it was Fadhil’s turn to showcase his goalkeeping skills as he performed a flying save to prevent a Sakamoto strike from going in at the top right corner.
The striker then had another chance to open the scoring shortly after when Albirex were awarded a penalty after Syaqir Sulaiman caught Masatake Sato with a trailing leg just as the midfielder looked set to burst into the box. Fadhil, however, came to his side's rescue with a terrific low save to keep the scoreline level.
Buoyed by Fadhil’s heroics, Eziakor broke free after a sweeping counterattack a minute later but his determined run only resulted in a weak shot that went safely into the opposition goalkeeper's hands.
Nonetheless, that proved to be nothing more than brief respite for the embattled Cheetahs, and Albirex were not to be denied in the 42nd minute when they went ahead through Nagasawa's left-footed strike that arrowed into the top corner despite Fadhil getting a hand to it.
But rather than be deflated by going a goal down so close to halftime, Hougang came out for the second half rejuvenated and Diallo began to assert his presence following the restart. Four minutes into the second half, he sent in a piledriver from the left but Hara was unpertubed as the shot careened well over the crossbar.
Similarly, Shotton saw a long-range effort go harmlessly wide a short while later.
By now, the Cheetahs were beginning to look increasingly lively but a telling final ball continued to elude them as Fazli Jaffar, latching onto a neat ball by Azhar, drilled in a cross that failed to pick out any of his team-mates.
Eager to handle the increasing enterprise shown by the opponents, Albirex boss Koichi Sugiyama chose to bring on some fresh legs by replacing Nagasawa and Yuya Nagae with Hiroki Morisaki and Shingo Suzuki, but they continued to find themselves under pressure. Diallo, in particular, was working hard to make a difference by having a go with every opportunity that came his way.
In the 71st minute, the watching Albirex fans breathed a sigh of relief as no Hougang attackers were able to take advantage of a loose ball inside the area, after Diallo had chased down Hara and dispossesed the goalkeeper.
As the game reached it closing stages, the White Swans seemed increasingly content to play out the remainder of the match but Hara was however called into action again six minutes from time when he promptly raced off his line to smother to danger, after the ball had gone loose inside the box.
From the subsequent counterattack, Sakamoto had one final chance to wrap up three points as he was presented with the ball and had a clear view of goal, but he somehow managed to send his shot from just inside the box harmlessly wide.
With one minute of injury-time left to be played, Hougang had one last attempt to net an equaliser when they were awarded a freekick 30 yards out, but Azhar's disappointing delivery was easily headed clear as the White Swans held on for the win.
The result was enough to see Albirex go top of the table and maintain their perfect start to the new season, but they will face a sterner test next Monday when they entertain title rivals DPMM FC, who recorded a 2-1 win over Courts Young Lions on Thursday.