Albirex beat Warriors in seven-goal thriller

Atushi Shimono grabbed the winner in the dying seconds as Albirex Niigata beat SAFFC 4-3 in a pulsating Great Eastern-YEO’s S.League encounter.

The Albirex captain nods home an equaliser!
Abhishek Mehrotra

By Abhishek Mehrotra

The White Swans had gone into the match knowing a defeat would see the Warriors draw level with them on points, but Shimono's heroics ensured they increased their lead over Richard Bok's charges to six points and rose to fourth in table, level on points with Home United and Balestier Khalsa.

Having strengthened his side defensively by bringing in Marin Vidosevic to partner Daniel Bennett at centre-back, Bok would have been hoping for a better performance at the back. Instead, he witnessed another shambolic outing at the back, as SAFFC's goal-conceded tally shot up to 23 for the season.

Shuhei Hotta gave his side the lead in the 24th minute, only for Shimpei Sakurada to equalise two minutes later for the home side. The tables were turned immediately after the break when Mislav Karoglan put his side ahead in the 46th minute before captain Nortihiro Kawakami equalised in the 48th. 

When Karoglan's wonderful strike restored the Warrirors' lead just after the hour mark, the game seemed to be there for the taking for the home side- but a resolute Albirex hit back with two late goals from Yasuhiro Yamakoshi and Shimono to grab all the spoils.

The match simmered for a while, with neither side able to carve out any clear cut chances, before suddenly exploding into life in the 23rd minute.

Musashi Okuyama won a corner off Aliff Shafaein and Shahril Jantan did superbly, pulling off a one-handed save to stop Masatake Sato's goalbound header. Unfortunately for the Warriors' custodian, the ball fell straight to Shuhei Hotta who lashed it into the roof of the net from five yards out.

The visitors' lead lasted less than two minutes. The lively Fazrul Nawaz trapped the ball just inside the box, waltzed past two defenders before unleashing a shot that Takuma Ito did well to push on to the right post. Ito was as unlucky as his counterpart had been at the other end, as the ball bounced straight back out to Sakurada for an easy tap in.

Having hit back in such resounding fashion, the home side then began to get a stranglehold on the game. In the 34th minute Fazrul teed up Karoglan 25 yards out with a nicely cushioned header, and Ito had to show firm wrists to turn away the striker's stinging strike. Tatsuro Inui then went on a mazy run down the right, dribbling past four Albirex men before unleashing a ferocious shot that Ito had to dive to his right to keep out.

The Warriors seemed to have found another gear, with both Inui and Fazrul causing Albirex huge problems, but the visitors did have a chance to restore the lead just before the break when Soya won a free-kick in a central position about 20 yards out, but Sho Kamimura's effort failed to clear the wall, and instead, it was the home side that took the lead immediately upon resumption thanks to some old fashioned route one football.

The Albirex defence failed to deal with a goal-kick from Shahril, allowing Fazrul to nip in behind and round the keeper. The forward failed to find the back of the net from an acute angle, but the rebound fell to Karoglan for a facile tap-in.

But, just like in the first half, the side with the lead could not hold on to it for more than 120 seconds. The visitors won a free-kick on the left and captain Norihiro Kawakami rose highest to flick Sato's delivery past a diving Shahril to restore parity. The match was opening up now, with players from both sides afforded too much space, and Takeshi Ito almost gave SAFFC the lead again in spectacular fashion in the 50 minute, when his volley off a poorly headed clearance screamed inches over.

But the home side did take the lead in the 63rd minute through a moment of brilliance from Karoglan. The striker's first goal had been down to all the hard work done by Fazrul, but when the Singapore forward found him yet again 25 yards out, Karoglan had it all to do. Even as the Albirex defence backed off, the Bosnian took a couple of touches before letting fly with a rocket that bounced just in front of Ito before nestling into the back of the net.

Watch: Highlights - SAFFC 3-4 Albirex Niigata... More Videos

Karoglan almost grabbed his hat-trick in the 71st minute, but his shot from a similar position fizzed just wide of Ito's left post. Despite that chance though, the Warriors were dropping deeper into their own half, looking to play out time and were made to pay for the tactic by the slick White Swans in the 82nd minute.

Shimono held off the attentions of two SAFFC defenders too find Yamakoshi on the right. The angle looked to be too acute for the substitute to go for goal, but Yamakoshi's sweetly struck shot beat the hapless Shahril before finding the far corner.

Despite conceding the equaliser, the Warrirors continued to hang back in their half, with the influential Inui seemingly tasked with defending rather than going forward, and as the game entered its dying stages, there was only one side that looked likely to get the winner.

Soya found Yamakoshi on the left, but then just failed to get on to the end of the substitute's square as the Warriors backline unravelled. In the 85th minute, another substitute, Keita Kobayashi, saw his lunging attempt from three yards out dribble wide with Soya the provider this time, and the follow up shot from Okuyama was blocked by Bennett. It seemed like Koichi Sugiyama would have to be content with a point, but there was time yet for a winner as the match entered injury time.

Albirex were awarded a free-kick in the centre of the park, and with SAFFC failing to organise in time, Shimono passed it quickly to Kobayashi before making a run into the box. Kobayashi's delectable chip over the defence found Yamakoshi and Shimono was perfectly positioned to thrash in the latter's center, sending the visitors into a jubilant frenzy and leaving the home side to reflect on what might have been.

Starting XIs

SAFFC: Shahril Jantan, Zulfadli Zainal Abidin, Marin Vidosevic, Daniel Bennett, Noh Rahman, Tatsuro Inui, Shimpei, Sakurada, Shukor Zailan, Aliff Shafaein, Mislav Karoglan, Fazrul Nawaz

Subs: Ruzaini Zainal for Fazrul Nawaz (86')

Goals: Shimpei Sakurada (26'), Mislav Karoglan (46', 63')

Yellow Cards: Ruzaini Zainal (90'), Noh Rahman (56')

Albirex Niigata: Takuma Ito, Kunihiro Yamashita, Norihiro Kawakami, Takeshi Ito, Hidekazu Yamamoto, Shuhei Hotta, Atsushi Shimono, Musashi Okuyama, Masatake Sato, Sho Kamimura, Toshikazu Koya

Subs: Yasuhiro Yamakoshi for Masatake Sato (66'), Keita Kobayashi for Musashi Okuyama (90')

Goals: Shuhei Hotta (24'), Norihiro Kawakami (48'), Yasuhiro Yamakoshi (82'), Atsushi Shimono (90')

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