Albirex Niigata must keep Linderboom in sight to avoid Balestier surprise

Balestier Khalsa’s New Zealander striker Keegan Linderboom has enough in the tank to trouble Albirex Niigata FC (S) in the Singapore Premier League.

Albirex Niigata FC (S) carried on where they left off last season with a 2-1 victory over Tampines Rovers FC in the 2018 Community Shield last weekend.

While the White Swans have the right to be in a confident mood, they might want to keep an eye on Balestier Khalsa FC’s new attacking recruit, Keegan Linderboom.

BACKGROUND: Different year, same old Albirex – that was the consensus amongst the local football fraternity as the White Swans edged Tampines Rovers 2-1 to lift the season-opening Great Eastern Community Shield.

The Albirex express is showing no signs of stopping after completing a clean sweep of domestic silverware for the past two seasons. That is despite the fact that they underwent another massive overhaul of the squad with just two players retained from 2017.

Veteran goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa was his usual assured self in between the sticks, while new captain Wataru Murofoshi was in total control in the middle of the park.

New forwards Taku Morinaga and Shuhei Hoshino displayed good chemistry upfront, which perhaps stemmed from their time back at Ryutsu Keizai University together.

All in all, it was a promising performance against last season’s runners-up as Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s side laid down the gauntlet for the other clubs which are trying to wrestle away their crown.

Next up for them are Balestier, a side in the process of rebuilding after two straight seasons at the lower end of the table.

The new-look Tigers side – which fielded new foreign forwards Keegan Linderboom and Vedran Mesec – showed brave resistance to keep Home United at bay in their season opener on Wednesday night and led for much of the game, before conceding the equaliser on 77 minutes and eventually losing 3-1.

Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic will take heart from the encouraging display as they face the mammoth task of taking down the mighty Albirex next.

The White Swans have won the last eight head-to-head encounters against the Tigers and are on a 22-game unbeaten streak in all competitions – which stretches back to July 2017.

TEAM NEWS: Both sides have a clean bill of health for this one. Albirex’s Singapore starlet Adam Swandi could be in for a starting berth after making an impact as a substitute in the previous game, while Balestier may well bring 2017 Young Player of the Year Hazzuwan Halim back into the starting eleven.

FORM GUIDE:

Balestier Khalsa FC: WLLWL

Albirex Niigata (S) FC: WWWWW

PREVIOUS MEETINGS:

26/10/17 Balestier 0-3 Albirex  – Singapore Premier League
26/07/17 Albirex 2-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
21/04/17 Balestier 0-3 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
13/09/16 Balestier 0-1 Albirex – Singapore Cup
09/09/16 Albirex 1-0 Balestier – Singapore Cup

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:

Keegan Linderboom (Balestier Khalsa FC)

Balestier’s main problem last season was scoring goals as they endured the entire year without a recognised forward. Things have changed this term, with the recruitment of former Waitakere United man Linderboom.

The 1.88m New Zealander showed the club what they were missing in 2017 as he made a nuisance of himself on his SPL debut – earning a penalty and converting it himself in the process.

Taku Morinaga (Albirex Niigata FC (S))

Who says size matters? The shortest player in the SPL this season at 1.53m, Morinaga may be diminutive in stature but makes up for it with his intelligence and tenacity upfront.

With a goal and an assist on his debut, there is surely more to come from the 22-year-old who is nicknamed ‘the Little Giant’.

WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:

Balestier midfielder Huzaifah Aziz: “Knowing our capabilities individually and as a team, it was disappointing result against Home. But it was a morale booster, given that we led them for such a long time in the game.

“We still need time to gel with the two new foreigners (Linderboom and Mesec) but I have a good feeling they will give us something extra upfront this season. I’ve seen Albirex’s first game but it’s not enough to determine a team based on one game. We just have to go out with the right game plan and stick to our individual jobs to take maximum points.”

Albirex forward Shuhei Hoshino: “I’ve played with Taku (Morinaga) from high school and eight years have passed since we became teammates. I just knew that he would give me the pass to score the (last-minute) goal (against Tampines).

“It was a pleasant feeling to win a trophy and the three points in our first game. For the next game, I will keep trying to do what I have practiced during training. If we can take advantage of all the chances we create, we will win.”

Photo credit: Balestier Khalsa Football Club Facebook

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