Albirex fire blanks again in Geylang stalemate

Albirex Niigata (S)'s winless streak in the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League continued on Saturday as they were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Geylang International.

Milojevic finds a bit of space...
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Reporting from the Jurong East Stadium

In a game which saw both sides have their fair share of chances, the highlight was arguably the return from retirement of ex-Singapore international Noor Ali, who showed good signs in a 72-minute cameo after answering Geylang's injury crisis.

However, his presence alone was not enough to lead the Eagles to victory, while Albirex will also feel they might have claimed all three points had they been more clinical in goal.

Having answered his coach V. Kanan's call to come out of retirement, Noor was thrown straight into the starting XI and did not look out of place down the right wing early on in Saturday's encounter.

But it was Geylang's other winger who had the first real chance in the fifth minute when Yasir Hanapi pounced on a poor touch by Shuhei Hotta and played a through-ball to Jalal, only to see him fire a poor effort straight at Hiroaki Hara.

Nine minutes later, lovely link-up play between Noor and Stefan Milojevic saw the former break free down the left and cross for Yasir, but his fierce shot at the far post was charged down before it could test the opposition keeper.

In a fairly open start to the match, Albirex then carved out their first opening in the 18th minute when Hotta met a freekick from Masatake Sato with a firm header but could only send his header wide of the bottom corner.

Bruno Castanheira was next to create an opening for the hosts two minutes after the half-hour mark when he found space down the right and cut the ball back to Kento Nagasaki, who tried to be too cute with the finish and sent a tame effort straight into Takuma Ito's arms.

But as they normally do, Albirex eventually gained ascendancy in the possession stakes but continued to be laboured in the build-up and looked far too content to play the ball backwards until a clear gap appeared in the opposition defence.

A minute before the hour mark, that eventually happened when Kazuki Sakamoto received a long ball and broke into the box before drilling a shot past Ito, only to see it fly just wide of the far post.

Nonetheless, Geylang were also showing plenty of initiative and came close to breaking free in the 62nd minute when Noor met Basil Teo's visionary over-the-top ball with a first-time header in search of Yasir, but Masahiro Ishikawa was alert to the danger and weighed in with a vital clearance.

Yasir did get his chance four minutes later when Shotaro Ihata poked a neat ball through to him, but with only Hara to beat, the ex-LIONSXII winger could only fire over on his left foot.

By now, the Eagles were threatening to break the deadlock and claim a surprise win over Albirex, and Ihata almost came back to haunt his former side in the 79th minute with two consecutive efforts.

First, he held up the ball well and turned his man inside the box before blasting a shot back off the bar, before meeting Wahyudi Wahid's follow-up cross with a bullet header that drew a smart save from Hara.

The White Swans then looked like they could have had a penalty six minutes from time when Sakamoto's bullet pass was handled by Norihiro Kawakami but it was adjudged to have happened outside the box, and Shingo Suzuki was only able to send the freekick into the wall.

And as the game entered injury-time, Albirex had one final chance to end their winless streak when Kento Nagasaki swung in a cross to the back post, but Ishikawa could only watch on in despair as his glancing header sailed past the top corner, leaving both sides to have to settle for a share of the spoils.

Albirex Niigata (S): Hiroaki Hara, Yuki Ichikawa, Kento Fukuda, Masahiro Ishikawa, Itsuki Yamada, Shuhei Hotta, Takeshi Nagasawa, Kento Nagasaki, Bruno Castanheira, Masatake Sato (Shingo Suzuki 56'), Kazuki Sakamoto.

Geylang International: Takuma Ito, Wahyudi Wahid, Khayrulhayat Jumat (Shotaro Ihata 60'), Norihiro Kawakami, Duncan Elias, Basil Teo, Noor Ali (Andrew Tan 72'), Yasir Hanapi, Taufiq Ghani, Jalal, Stefan Milojevic.

Attendance: 1,924

Image courtesy of VOXSPORTS (Darren Ho)

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