S-LEAGUE LEADERS ALBIREX NIIGATA PULLS AHEAD WITH BALESTIER SPANKING

<Photo credit: Leo Shengwei>

ALBIREX NIIGATA 6
(Atsushi Shirota 7, Hiroyoshi Kamata 28, 81, Naofumi Tanaka, 54 Tatsuro Inui 57,
Kento Nagasaki 66)
BALESTIER KHALSA 0

Be afraid, be very afraid. After recording the biggest win of this S.League season by spanking Balestier Khalsa 6-0 at Jurong East, and dishing out some of their best football in the process, Albirex Niigata coach Naruki Naruo insisted there was more to come from his team in the remaining half of the term.

“I agree that this is one of our best performances this season. We played well for the full 90 minutes and everyone in the team did well individually and as a unit,” he said. “But there are still many more games left and we can do better. “Anything can happen from now till then, so we have to take it one game at a time and then we can think about winning titles.”

With the big win, they now have 26 points, extending their lead at the S.League summit to five points over Tampines Rovers, who have a game in hand; Balestier remained second from bottom with six points from 10 games. In front of 1,428 fans, they dominated from start to finish and it is fair to say that after the coaching change, the White Swans have established their style of play with their intricate passing and patient build-up play down the flanks.

Kento Nagasaki is making an early claim to be the S.League Player of the Year when he notched his seventh assist of the season - his pinpoint seventh-minute corner was nodded in by Atsushi Shirota. This was the defender’s second goal of the season, in a game when their topscorer Atsushi Kawata failed to score. And still Albirex went on to win by half a dozen, proving they have a strong goal supply from every department.

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After 11 games, they now have scored 26 goals and conceded just six, continuing their status as the best defence from last year, while at the same time ditching their unwanted reputation as the worst attack. At this rate, few teams can stop them, especially on their refurbished artificial pitch at Jurong East, where they have now won all four games with a combined score of 12-0.

To be fair to Balestier, they could have equalised in the 19th minute, but Fadhil Noh could not convert. Hiroyoshi Kamata then showed him how it is done nine minutes later when he polished off the excellent Naofumi Tanaka’s drilled pass.

Like his team, Tanaka was close to unplayable and in a remarkable trend in recent matches, Hanafi Salleh became the third player in a week to be sent off after hacking down Tanaka in the box in the 42nd minute.

Although Tatsuro Inui missed the resulting penalty, it was only a matter of time before the numerical advantage told. Tanaka was not to be denied when he scored a lovely solo goal in the 54th minute, while Inui redeemed himself two minutes later by putting away Shuto Inaba’s cross.

Inaba laid on another assist in the 66th minute for Nagasaki, before Kamata grabbed his second of the night in the 81st minute to complete the first AOS (any other score in Singapore Pools terms) this season.

Even as Naruo was dreaming of greater things to come - the Albirex chairman Daisuke Korenaga had set an ambitious quadruple target pre-season - Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic was left to pick up the pieces. He had made a number of surprising changes during the game, such as introducing attacked Jamil Ali for the more defensive Nurullah Hussein after just half an hour, and also swopped goalkeepers after the break.

After seeing his side, who have previously had the second-best defence in the league, crash to their biggest loss under his leadership, Kraljevic said: ”It was very tough for us tonight. I made some tactical changes during the game to try and contain them but it didn’t work so I take full responsibility for the loss today.”

ALBIREX NIIGATA: Yosuke Nozawa, Mikiya Yamada, Atsushi Shirota, Kento Fujihara, Atsushi Kawata (Kazuki Mine 63), Kento Nagasaki, Shuto Inaba, Naofumi Tanaka, Tomoki Menda (Rui Kamada 53), Tatsuro Inui, Hiroyoshi Kamata

BALESTIER KHALSA: Zaiful Nizam (Daniel Ong 46), Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Hanafi Salleh, Nurullah Hussein (Jamil Ali 32), Fazli Ayob, Emir Lotinac, Fadhil Noh, Smajovic Sadin, Ahmad Syahir, Miroslav Kristic (Syafiq Zainal 59)

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