With six matches to go, Albirex Niigata coach Naoki Naruo feels their one-point lead at the summit is not enough, even with a game in hand, and his side are starting to feel the pressure in their pursuit of a maiden S-League football title.
He is not taking anything for granted as they take on Balestier Khalsa at Jalan Besar tonight. The Tigers are second-last in the nine-team table and a whopping 27 points behind the leaders.
Naruo said: "We feel the pressure of the title race. The nerves are creeping in because the season is ending and we're so close to the title. The defeat by Brunei (DPMM) was evidence of that and the players felt a bit demoralised then."
The White Swans suffered a 1-2 loss to defending champions DPMM two weeks ago in Bandar Seri Begawan.
Albirex midfielder Tatsuro Inui added: "None of our players have experienced winning the league title in their football lives. It is natural that we feel pressure now, as we head towards the end of the season.
"But we're trying our best to enjoy this position we are in now and I'm fully confident Albirex will win the championship. Tampines (Rovers) lost on Wednesday and we have the advantage now."
The second-placed Stags failed to overtake Albirex when they fell 1-2 to Hougang United two nights ago and the Japanese outfit have the opportunity to extend their gap over Tampines to four points.
However, victory will not come easy. Albirex will have their hands full with Balestier's Croatian strikeforce of Niko Tokic and Miroslav Kristic.
"After signing (Tokic), Balestier have been getting better and they are scoring more goals. It won't be an easy game for us. We've never played against the two strikers together this season, they'll be strong and will pose a threat in finishing," Naruo said.
"Over the season, the other teams have studied us and know us well, how we play, how we line up and how to counter our fast-paced attacking play. I'm forced to change Albirex's tactics."
In their last two matches, the 41-year-old shifted striker Kazuki Mine to centre-back and moved defender Rui Kumada up front. The coach explained: "We will continue to employ these tactics, but it depends on the opposition we face and their danger areas."
He added: "From the Tampines-Hougang match, I realised all the other clubs are very motivated when they're playing either Tampines or us. We will expect more difficult matches from now on."