Match Of The Week

Back to business for leaders Albirex

Albirex Niigata defender Ryo Kurihara (right) training with a club assistant coach (in black) at the Jurong East Stadium. The S-League leaders will hope to extend their seven-match winning streak.
Albirex Niigata defender Ryo Kurihara (right) training with a club assistant coach (in black) at the Jurong East Stadium. The S-League leaders will hope to extend their seven-match winning streak.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

White Swans hope to shake off rust after break, while Warriors are winless in nine

S-LEAGUE

Albirex Niigata v Warriors FC

Jurong East Stadium, 8pm

A three-week break has given S-League leaders Albirex Niigata some respite, but coach Naoki Naruo cannot help but worry whether the rest will prove to be a bane or boon for the White Swans' title charge.

Coming into tonight's match against seventh-placed Warriors at the Jurong East Stadium, the Japanese football club have won their last seven games - scoring 19 goals and conceding just one in the process.

Despite establishing themselves as strong title favourites, Naruo is concerned about Albirex's ability to keep up their momentum.

His anxiety stems from recent history. When the S-League season resumed last year after a break in mid-season, the club endured a run of five winless games, dropping 11 points and missing out on the title, which went to Brunei's DPMM.

Naruo is determined to avoid the same mishap again, and said: "Not playing in the S-League (for three weeks) is a big issue for me. I'm concerned about our squad's rustiness and if their young mindsets are able to continue performing.

"During the break, we kept up our training and I always told the players to keep our aim in mind, since we're top of the table and are title contenders.

"Still, I don't want the pressure of winning every game get to their heads. The best way to keep up our performance is to take it one victory at a time."

Naruo also hopes the break will also affect the other clubs, namely closest rivals Tampines Rovers. The Stags, who play DPMM tomorrow, will have tired legs as a host of their players featured for the Singapore national team in the AYA Bank Cup in Myanmar last week.

"Our advantage is that our players are fresh and energised to resume the season, while the other clubs' players, like from Tampines, appeared for the national team. I expect them to falter," Naruo said.

"If they can drop points and we win our match, Albirex have a better chance of winning our first league championship but we must focus on ourselves first."

Albirex hold a seven-point lead over Tampines and could extend it to 10, albeit momentarily, to put the pressure on the Stags.

The Warriors may be winless in nine games but Albirex captain Kento Nagasaki is not underestimating a side they lost to earlier in the season.

Nagasaki said: "They've beaten us before so we can't take their bad run of form for granted. We must concentrate on our own game plan. Their striker (Jonathan Behe) can be deadly and Warriors are still a solid side."

In tonight's other fixture, eight-placed Balestier Khalsa host Hougang United in sixth at Toa Payoh Stadium, with new signing Niko Tokic set to debut for the Tigers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'Back to business for leaders Albirex'. Print Edition | Subscribe