By Suhas BhatFollow @@suhasrbhat
Reporting from the Jurong East Stadium
The side from Brunei went ahead in the 29th minute as Shahrazen Said smashed the ball into an empty net after Hiroaki Hara botched an attempt to punch the ball away from a corner, but that did not unsettle the White Swans and they soaked up the pressure for the rest of the half, equalising on the stroke of half-time through a long-range strike by Kento Nagasaki.
In the second half, a similar mix-up in the DPMM box following a corner saw them net the winner, as Kazuki Sakamoto popped up at the far post to send the ball into an unguarded net to ensure that Albirex remain top of the S.League standings.
Heading into the game, the two sides were both unbeaten in the league and Albirex had won all three previous games to justify their title aspirations.
But initially it looked like the Japanese side were going to be outmatched by Vjeran Simunic’s hard-working DPMM side. The visitors were the physically superior team and repeatedly threatened the Albirex goal in the opening 45 minutes.
Azwan Saleh, in particular, looked eager to cause trouble down the left flank and Tatsuya Sase struggled to contain his energetic runs and crosses.
The winger was also managing to get quite a lot of distance on his throw-ins and Joao Moreira connected with one in the ninth minute, only for the Albirex keeper to tip the header out for a corner.
Foreign signing Stephane Auvray was also proving troublesome as he proved an effective conduit for the DPMM attacks while the imposing Dino Drpic had no problems winning the physical battles at the back.
In the 13th minute, Shahrazen was next to go close as he got on the end of a through-ball sent by Rosmin Kamis; he cleverly took the ball over his marker but saw his shot trail wide of the post.
DPMM did not have to wait long for the opener, though, as a corner sent in from the right by Azwan in the 29th minute was converted by Shahrazen. The Brunei international was the beneficiary of a poor clearance by the Albirex goalkeeper and made no mistake when presented with an opportunity to score at the near post
It was apparent at this juncture that Albirex needed to be more direct in their approach but the midfield consisting of Bruno Castanheira, Shingo Suzuki, Masatake Sato and Kento Nagasaki remained content in passing the ball around in the hopes of breaking the offside trap with a choice ball or two.
And they finally found the ideal chance when Auvray was dispossessed in his own half in the 45th minute. Kazuki Sakamoto, receiving possession from Shuhei Hotta, did brilliantly to spot Nagasaki's run into the box and sent in a perfect ball that the midfielder struck home to level the scoreline.
Following the restart, the tables were turned as it was Albirex who began to have the upper hand - DPMM just could not deal with the White Swans’ passing rhythm and struggled to win the ball. The young Albirex men even impressed on the defensive front as they held their ground and firmly cleared away any crosses or long balls sent in to their penalty area.
Shortly before the hour mark, a Sakamoto shot from distance was deflected away for a corner and it was just what Albirex needed to grab hold of the lead.
The corner was swung in from the left and Castanheira earned the slightest of touches to nod it towards the far post where Sakamoto was ready and willing to put his side ahead for the first time in the game, much to the delight of the watching supporters.
And they continued to press on in search of a third goal and Castanheira even saw a shot from outside the box get deflected away for a corner shortly afterwards.
Sakamoto was next to go close as he chased down a through-ball but his first touch was too heavy and Wardun Yusoff collected it at the edge of his six-yard box.
The goal seemed to have really uplifted the self-belief of Koichi Sugiyama’s side and Nagasaki effortlessly dribbled past a number of defenders to keep possession of the ball in the 70th minute to demonstrate the solidity of their attack.
A minute later, the game turned ugly, though, as Sairol Sahari squared up to Castanheira after the Brazilian-born striker broke clear of the defenders and saw an effort go wide. The bone of contention seemed to be the Brunei defender’s disapproval of Albirex’s continuation of the game while Shahrulrizal Abd Rahman lay injured at the halfway line following a nasty challenge just moments earlier.
Castanheira’s team-mates rushed to defuse the situation but the referee carded the striker anyway for his less than cool response to Sairol’s angry outburst. Shahrulrizal was also swapped for Abdul Aziz Tamit as the 35-year-old veteran appeared to have suffered a serious injury.
Time being of the essence now, Brunei tried to increase the frequency of their attacks but Kento Fukuda and Itsuki Yamada simply would not allow any deliveries into the box to connect with a DPMM player.
One such headed clearance, however, did reach Azwan in the 80th minute, who then fired in a rocket from the left that seemed destined for the top corner, only for Hara to deny him with a smart stop at his near post.
And as the game entered the final minutes of the game, Sugiyama brought on defender Yoshinaga Arima for Sakamoto, tasking the 20-year-old to harry the DPMM defenders before they could launch any balls upfront.
It seemed an effective ploy as DPMM could not find the crucial second goal despite the fourth official signalling four minutes of additional time.
Instead, they saw time run out and suffered the first defeat of their season. They will now be hoping to make amends in their three upcoming home fixtures against Woodlands Wellington, Geylang International and Tanjong Pagar United.
For Albirex, the thrilling win will surely have confirmed their status as genuine title contenders and the White Swans next take to the field against Courts Young Lions at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday night.
Albirex Niigata (S): Hiroaki Hara, Tatsuya Sase, Kento Fukada, Masahiro Ishikawa, Itsuki Yamada, Shuhei Hotta, Masatake Sato, Kento Nagasaki, Shingo Suzuki (Hiroki Morisaki 90'), Bruno Castanheira, Kazuki Sakamoto (Yoshinaga Arima 88').
DPMM FC: Wardun Yussof, Shahrulrizal Abd Rahman (Abdul Aziz Tamit 75'), Dino Drpic, Sairol Sahari, Helmi Zambin, Stephane Auvray, Rosmin Kamis, Azwan Saleh, Hendra Azam (Adi Said 62'), Shahrazen Said, Joao Moreira (Awangku Fakhrazzi 68').