By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Eight days after being held to a 0-0 draw by DPMM FC in their opening game of the 2013 Great Eastern-YEO's S.League season, the Protectors looked on track to pick up all three points after substitute Indra Sahdan Daud fired them ahead in the 64th minute at the Jalan Besar stadium.
However, Albirex equalised five minutes later through Kento Nagasaki's peach of a strike, and just when a draw looked on the cards, centre-back Kento Fukada popped home to lash home the winner in the first minute of injury-time.
Yet, for much of the game, it appeared as though Home would pick up their first game of the campaign as they enjoyed the lion's share of possession and enjoyed the better of the chances.
Like he did against DPMM, left-back Sirina Camara provided a bright spark for Lee Lim-saeng's side as he put in a tireless shift; threatening the opposition defence for the first time after 11 minutes when he burst down the left and swung in a cross that narrowly evaded Masato Fukui.
Six minutes later, Masrezwan Masturi wasted an excellent chance to open the scoring when he inexplicably fired wide from eight yards out after Firdaus Idros' shot was blocked but landed right at his feet.
Immediately after, Albirex goalkeeper Hiroki Hara was called into action for the first time, in what turned out to be a busy night for him, when he raced out to deny Fukui in a one-on-one situation.
There was then little he could do a minute later when Hafiz Rahim picked up possession 25 yards out from goal and let fly with a cracking half-volley that had the veteran beaten all ends up, but thankfully for the designated hosts, the woodwork came to their rescue.
By now, the contest had become fairly one-sided and Hara had to react again in the 38th minute to keep the scores level; he produced a flying save to keep out Jordan's Webb's firm header at the near post.
Although a defender by trade, Fukuda issued a warning sign of his attacking threat eight minutes after the break when he leapt highest inside the area to meet a Masatake Sato freekick, only to waste his side's first real chance by heading way over.
13 minutes after the break, Camara, who was causing all sorts of problems for Tatsuya Sase, went on another powerful burst down the left and into the box, leaving two defenders trailing in his wake. However, he again misjudged his cross by the smallest of margins, sending the ball past Hara but beyond the reach of Webb.
Having seen enough of his side's lack of a real cutting edge in the final third, Lee decided to ring the changes by bringing Indra and Aliff Shafaein on for Fukui and Hafiz respectively.
And just four minutes the hour mark, the former provided the breakthrough with a terrific piece of play, winning possession off Masahiro Ishikawa in midfield and shifting play wide to Masrezwan, before racing into the box to meet the wing-back's perfectly-floated cross and plant a firm header into the back of the net.
Up till then, the White Swans, known for their fluid and attractive style of play, had looked uncharacteristically lacklustre, although that was perhaps understandable given they retained just three players from their 2012 roster.
But Home's opener did stun them in action and three minutes after his side fell behind, Bruno Castanheira gave the opposition a real scare when he latched onto a neat lobbed pass by Kazuki Sakamoto and rifled a shot inches wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, Albirex were back level as Nagasaki produced a moment of brilliance to net the equaliser. Picking up possession on the edge of the area from an incisive pass by Sato, the 22-year-old created a yard of space for himself with a clever feint, before curling a delightful effort past Jang Hong-won's despairing dive and into the top corner.
The equaliser seemed to shift the momentum of the game in the White Swans' favour, but Indra continued to look dangerous for Home and presented a shooting chance to Webb in the 76th minute, only for Hara to deny him with a smart stop down low to keep out the Canadian's snapshot.
With time fast running out, a draw looked the likeliest result, especially after Koichi Sugiyama's side wasted what seemed to be their final chance two minutes from time. Showing great desire to chase down an aimless clearance by Hara, Castanheira's tenacity saw him harass Noh Rahman into giving up possession and slip a pass to Sakamoto, only for the striker to curl his effort wide.
But just as the game ticked over into extra-time, Fukuda emerged as the hero for Albirex but Castanheira deserves plenty of credit for the role he played in their winner.
Again showing his refusal to give up on a seemingly lost cause after his initial header appeared to have been pushed wide for a corner by Jang, the Brazilian-Japanese's desire to chase down the ball proved worthwhile as he succeeded in hooking it back into the danger zone, where the unmarked Fukuda proceeded to plant an emphatic effort into the back of the net.
Long known for their attacking prowess, Albirex's opening two victories, following last week's 1-0 triumph at Harimau Muda, have certainly been far from pretty. But having added a newfound resilience to their game, they could well deliver on their intent of challenging for the title when Sugiyama's new charges finally find their groove.
Albirex Niigata (S): Hiroaki Hara, Tatsuya Sase, Kento Fukuda, Masahiro Ishikawa (Yuya Nagae 90'), Takeshi Nagasawa, Shuhei Hotta, Masatake Sato, Kento Nagasaki, Bruno Castanheira, Hiroki Morisaki (Shingo Suzuki 61'), Kazuki Sakamoto (Yoshinaga Arima 90').
Home United: Jang Hong-won, Masrezwan Masturi (Mustaqim Manzur 68'), Nor Azli Yusoff, Noh Rahman, Ismail Yunos, Sirina Camara, Lee Kwan-woo, Hafiz Rahim (Aliff Shafaein 61'), Jordan Webb, Firdaus Idros, Masato Fukui (Indra Sahdan Daud 46').
Image courtesy of Home United Football Club (Jaron Lee)