A last minute equaliser from captain Wataru Murofushi allowed Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions Albirex Niigata FC(S) to avoid their first defeat of the 2018 season and stretch their unbeaten run after a 1-1 draw on Sunday evening at the Bishan Stadium.
Super-sub Shahril Ishak netted three minutes after coming on at half-time and it had appeared that the Protectors’ highly-organised and disciplined showing was enough for them to become the first team to earn maximum points against the Japanese side.
But that ultimately proved to be too good to be true, as Murofushi struck at the end of the four-minute injury time to salvage a point.
The draw meant that Albirex are unbeaten for 41 games in a row stretching back to 2017. It also meant that Home are now three points behind Tampines Rovers in the sweepstakes for the runners-up spot.
As expected, Albirex dominated proceedings against a Home side missing four players in the starting line-up from the team that started the midweek AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal final against Ceres Negros.
Hiroyoshi Kamata fire just wide on seven minute after some good work from Taku Morinaga to craft out the opportunity, before Morinaga himself earned a penalty after Home defender Faizal Roslan conceded possession in his own box sloppily and fouled the Japanese attacker with a hasty challenge.
But Eko Pradana Putra, a replacement for Rudy Khairullah after the first-choice keeper was rested as a precaution, pulled off a superb stop to deny Morinaga’s attempt from the spot. Kamata was first to the rebound, but fired wide under pressure from Eko.
The Protectors finally got an opportunity minutes later, but Hafiz Nor’s effort from just outside the box was a poor one.
Eko once again denied Morinaga after Albirex split open the Home defence, before another Home counter shortly after saw M. Anumanthan shoot narrowly wide.
Home were increasingly threatening on the counter and another one on 37 minutes saw Amiruldin Asraf play centre-back Shakir Hamzah, who had raced more than half the length of the pitch, through on goal. But Shakir appeared to have no faith with his right foot and elected to square the ball for Hafiz, only for the recovering Shuhei Sasahara to cut it out.
From the resulting corner, Faizal Roslan could only head wide.
Albirex then had another golden opportunity on 41 minutes after Kenya Takahashi found himself with the ball unmarked out on the left side. Caught in two minutes between going for goal himself or crossing for his teammates, his cross cum shot was too hard for Shuhei Hoshino to control and the ball rolled past the target instead.
Home head coach Aidil Sharin brought on Shahril at half-time for Amiruldin, and the evergreen forward made an instant impact as he took just three minutes to net his 16th goal of the season.
A clearance from Faizal Roslan somehow found its way to Shahril, and the forward sprung the offside trap smartly before lobbing the ball over the onrushing Yohsuke Nozawa to break the deadlock.
The goal seemingly stunned Albirex, and the SPL champions started to lose the ball more frequently than they did.
Home for their part, did well to keep the White Swans at bay. Even when the Japanese side managed to put the ball into the box, they were able to snuff out any danger.
They could have even gone ahead on 75 minutes after Shahril got the ball to Faritz Hameed, but the wing-back failed to keep the ball down.
Albirex almost snuck in an equaliser after Moriyasu’s floating corner was met by Hoshino, but the flailing Eko somehow got a vital touch to put it behind. Shun Kumaigai was next to have a goal, but the defender nodded wide instead.
A harmless foul from Shakir on Hoshino gave Albirex a free-kick on the edge of the area on 86th minute, but Takahashi’s wicked effort bended away from goal and whizzed past the far post on 86 minutes.
But just as it appeared Home did enough to do what no others have been able to do, the White Swans’ pressure paid off as Murofushi scored to prevent a defeat in the last minute of the injury time.
Anumanthan lost the ball just outside the area and Takahashi’s lofted ball was knocked on brilliantly by Kamata for an unmarked Murofushi, who had the simplest of task to slot it beyond Eko’s reach and salvage a point.
WHAT THEY SAID
Albirex Head Coach Yoshinaga Kazuaki: “We really looked forward to playing Home United in this game because they are newly crowned AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal champions. This was not a very good game for us, first half we missed penalty and from there we didn’t really play well. Home scored a goal immediately in second half, we took a long time (to find our groove) and finally we scored in the last minute to preserve unbeaten streak. We are happy with the point.
“After the game, I told the players this was a very difficult game for us and it’s a game where they can improve tremendously as a player and they should take all the positivity and grow from there.
“From our last two games against Home, we beat them 6-1 and 3-0, they tightened up the defence today and its quite evident from their last game in the AFC Cup. We didn’t have much space to work and that was why the game didn’t go well for us. We did work on some plans to break down their defence, but our final ball let us down today. We definitely need to work on that. For today, our set-play was poor as well, and from the wings, our crossing were poor too. As professional players, this was not good enough for us. Our players have to work harder.”
Home Head Coach Aidil Sharin: “Of course I feel gutted, but if you look at it the boys gave everything. They are defending champions and champions this year, we are second team to take points off them. I look at it as one point gained and not two points lost. It’s not easy, we just played last three days. We are playing again on Wednesday. I have to give credit to my boys, they manage themselves well. I’m very pleased with the boys performance, in the lineup that started we had a few reserves playing. I’m very proud of the boys.
“We had to rest some players. Here we are playing hard game at Jalan Besar midweek and come on Sunday to play a hard game in the heat against a fitter team. The players definitely deserved a good break – we want quality, we dont want to be there just for the sake of it.
“The boys were disciplined and there was unity. of course in football there’s mistakes, and the mistake came at a bad time.”
Home United: Eko Pradana Putra (GK), Shakir Hamzah, M Anumanthan, Aqhari Abdullah (Song Uiyoung 76′), Faritz Hameed, Amiruldin Asraf (Shahril Ishak 46′), Izzdin Shafiq (C), Faizal Roslan, Shahrin Saberin, Hafiz Nor (Amy Recha 90′), Isaka Cernak
Albirex Niigata (S): Yohsuke Nozawa (GK), Shuhei Sasahara, Shun Kumagai, Daiki Asaoka, Riku Moriyasu, Wataru Murofushi (C), Shuhei Hoshino, Adam Swandi, Kenya Takahashi, Hiroyoshi Kamata, Taku Morinaga (Ryujiro Yamanaka 55′)