Albirex Niigata FC (S) continued their relentless march towards the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title after a 2-0 win over Warriors FC at Jurong East Stadium on Sunday evening.
Wataru Murofushi and Shuhei Hoshino’s goals clinched the White Swans’ 15th straight win this season, although it could have been more in a fixture which the White Swans thoroughly dominated.
Albirex were made to suffer jitters early on, as Poh Yi Feng spotted Fadhil Noh’s run into the box and sent him within scoring distance, but the latter rushed his shot and hit the ball over.
But that was as good as it got for Warriors, especially after their pre-game plan hit a snag with Ignatius Ang picking up an injury during warm up and an unfit Jonathan Behe started instead.
Settling into the game thereafter, Albirex stoked the ball around in search of the opener but they found a wall somewhat in Warriors goalkeeper Mukundan Maran.
The goalkeeper first pulled out a top-drawer save in the 19th minute from Shuhei Sasahara’s point-blank header, but it mattered little as Warriors earned a free-kick for an infringement in the box.
Two minutes later, Mukundan was at his best and worst. He first denied Adam Swandi from close range after the forward was picked out by Sasahara, but contrived to fumble the ball and Hoshino nearly capitalised on the mistake.
In the 26th minute, the 20-year-old continued to underline his potential with a stupendous stop, reacting quickly to prevent Hoshino’s shot from going in after the midfielder met Ryujiro Yamanaka’s pass.
But just moments later, his inexperienced showed again as he fumbled a cross and left a gapping goal for Adam to hit at. Fortunately for him, Ismadi Mukhtar made a vital goal-line clearance.
However, the goalkeeper could not be blamed when Albirex finally made a breakthrough just before half-time came.
His teammates allowed Murofushi to run at goal, and with time and space on his side, the Albirex captain picked out his spot from distance and sent the ball past a diving Mukundan.
Warriors failed to heed the warning after the restart and it could have been 2-0 in the 50th minute, with Sasahara left free to meet Riku Moriyasu’s corner but he was unable to find the target.
Kenya Takahashi then came close next with his free-kicks, one flying just over goal while the other drew a fine save from Mukundan.
The hosts finally grabbed a deserved second goal in the 72nd minute and it came after a sweet one-two between Taku Morinaga and Hoshino saw the latter racing into the box before calmly curling into the bottom right corner.
There was still time for another goal and Albirex came on several occasions, only for their final touch to let them down.
The last piece of noteworthy action came on 89 minutes, when Takahashi went for it again from a 20-yard set-piece, but Mukundan stood in his way to keep the scoreline respectable.
Albirex’s next task will be to see off challengers Tampines Rovers FC at home next Saturday, 14 July. Warriors will go up against Geylang International FC the next day, at Bedok Stadium.
Albirex Niigata FC (S) Yoshinaga Kazuaki: “After the previous match against Hougang, we had a serious injury to a key player, so we had to make some changes to the players’ position. Some players were not used to their new roles, that’s why our first half didn’t go as planned. In the second half, we made some adjustments and we played better. But we will continue to make improvements so that they can play better in the next match.
“We have never thought about winning every match, we are just taking it one game at a time and it’s important the players take them seriously.
“If I ever get sick of winning, I will resign. As professional coaches and footballers, they have to give their best to win every match. Football is harsh, it is a harsh reality. Even if you win every match, there is no guarantee you will still have a job. Everybody must give their best, that’s how we find our next jobs. We cannot be satisfied with anything.”
Warriors FC Head Coach Mirko Grabovac: “In the first half, we had some problems in midfield and Albirex got some chances, leading us to concede at the last second in the first half. We played better in the second half and I can’t really fault my players, they worked very hard.
“Congratulations to Albirex but we had two problems before the game. Ignatius (Ang) got injured and it was a big miss for us, as we played Jonathan Behe, who was also injured. If you are not at 100 per cent against Albirex, playing for 60 minutes is very hard. (Regarding starting Behe) we discussed about it when Ignatius got injured and because Behe scored many goals for us, even when he is not 100 per cent fit, we played him. If you want to do something against Albirex, you need a goal and Behe scored 70 per cent of our goals.
“We want to go for fourth in the table and try and win the Singapore Cup now. We must be ready, all our players must be fit and ready. If we want to do something in the Cup, we must make less mistakes. But at least today they showed fighting spirit.”
Albirex Niigata FC (S): Yohsuke Nozawa (GK), Shuhei Sasahara, Daiki Asaoka, Riku Moriyasu, Wataru Murofushi (C), Shuhei Hoshino, Adam Swandi, Kenya Takahashi, Hiroyoshi Kamata, Taku Morinaga (Ryuji Yamauchi 90’), Ryujiro Yamanaka
Warriors FC: Mukundan Maran (GK), Ismadi Mukhtar (Tajeli Salamat 50’), Delwinder Singh, Kento Fukuda (C), Emmeric Ong, Fadhil Noh, Daniel Shafiq, Poh Yi Feng, Nur Luqman (Sahil Suhaimi 46’), Ho Wai Loon, Jonathan Behe (Suria Prakash 64’)