Albirex Niigata 2
Geylang International 0
A maiden S-League football crown is becoming increasingly possible for Albirex Niigata when they beat Geylang International 2-0 at Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
The victory saw the Japanese side (29 points) extend the gap over closest rivals Tampines Rovers (22 points) to seven points with just over half a season to go.
However, Albirex coach Naoki Naruo downplayed his team's chances, saying: "We still have improving to do and we don't want to think about the future first. We just want to look at it game by game.
"We had many chances and we should've scored them. We also allowed Geylang to create and we need to work on that."
The White Swans spurned a chance to take the lead early when the club's leading marksman Atsushi Kawata's free kick came off the post in the ninth minute.
Albirex midfielder Tatsuro Inui even tried chipping goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari from 35 metres out in the 26th minute, but the latter was quick to react to the danger.
Albirex finally broke the deadlock in the 45th minute when Shuto Inaba crossed for defender Taomi Tanaka to head home.
A GAME AT A TIME
We still have improving to do and we don't want to think about the future first. We just want to look at it game by game. We had many chances and we should've scored them.
'NAOKI NARUO, Albirex Niigata coach, on his side leading the S-League near the halfway mark of the season.
Tensions boiled after the restart when a reckless challenge from defender Shariff Samat took out Tanaka, sparking furious protests from the White Swans players. The former Singapore international was booked for the tackle.
Geylang's best opportunity to level the match came in the 78th minute, courtesy of Shawal Anuar. The substitute ran past a maze of Albirex defenders but could only shoot straight at custodian Yosuke Nozawa.
Albirex sealed the three points in stoppage time through midfielder Masaya Jitozono, who rifled a spectacular shot from outside the box and into the top corner.
Geylang coach Hasrin Jailani refused to blame his players for the defeat, saying: "It was anybody's game. I was putting bodies up trying to attack and their goals came out of the blue.
"We got cut on the break when we were putting bodies forward.
"I think it's better to go out to grab the goal and keep attacking instead of defending. It was an entertaining game today.
"I think the players played very well, they played according to plan and what we worked on in training. I'm very sure that we will pick up the mood and the spirit and will bounce back."
In last night's other match, seventh-placed Warriors played out a 1-1 draw with eighth-placed Balestier Khalsa at Choa Chu Kang Stadium.