Tampines Rovers 1
Albirex Niigata 0
In what could be a pivotal point in the S-League title race, Tampines Rovers handed themselves a lifeline yesterday when they beat leaders Albirex Niigata 1-0 at the Jurong West Stadium.
With 10 minutes to go, defender Shakir Hamzah chipped a pass for Fazrul Nawaz and the forward's shot was deflected into goal off defender Mikiya Yamada to give the hosts victory in front of 1,433 fans.
This means the second-placed Stags closed the gap between them and Albirex to just four points. Tampines also ended the White Swans' 10-match winning streak.
Although eager to shave the visitors' lead at the top of the table, Tampines had to adopt a patient game plan as they passed the ball around to draw the Albirex players out of position before hitting direct balls to send forwards Fazrul and Billy Mehmet through.
Their strategy almost paid off in the 29th minute. Fazrul latched onto a Mehmet through-pass and unleashed a powerful shot which White Swans custodian Yosuke Nozawa did well to parry. The Stags continued the barrage of attacks, pinning down Albirex, a team who are usually attack-minded.
A delighted Tampines coach Akbar Nawas said: "The team can be proud of themselves for not conceding a goal. It's about how they defended as a team, and today they defended as a team right from the top.
"(I am) definitely very happy (on ending Albirex's winning streak), but you have to give some credit to Albirex, too. They defended and were very disciplined in the way they played."
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo lamented: "Throughout the 90 minutes, Tampines were very dangerous. It was not unlucky (to concede) but we allowed them to run at us all the time and that was our mistake.
"One of our weak points is getting caught on the counter-attack and Tampines didn't allow us to play our style of football."
Despite Albirex throwing men forward in search of an equaliser, the Stags held on.
In the other match, champions Brunei DPMM claimed their first away victory of the season when they beat Balestier Khalsa 4-1.