MATCH OF THE WEEK

High hopes for hotshot

Albirex Niigata forward Atsushi Kawata (centre) controlling the ball in training at Jurong East Stadium as his coach Naoki Naruo (right) looks on. The league's leading striker aims to win the Golden Boot and also fire his side to their first S-League
Albirex Niigata forward Atsushi Kawata (centre) controlling the ball in training at Jurong East Stadium as his coach Naoki Naruo (right) looks on. The league's leading striker aims to win the Golden Boot and also fire his side to their first S-League crown. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Albirex coach wants top scorer Kawata to create more chances for himself and others

S-LEAGUE

Albirex Niigata v Geylang Int'l Jalan Besar Stadium, 7.45pm StarHub Ch205 & 76.25MHz, 7.30pm

Possessing the league's most lethal striker should hardly be cause for complaint for any coach but Albirex Niigata's Naoki Naruo is demanding that his top marksman Atsushi Kawata improve.

Despite the latter averaging almost a goal a game - Kawata has 10 goals in 11 matches - to lead the S-League scoring chart, Naruo pointed out two key areas the 23-year-old still has to work on.

"First, I want him to score goals by himself and to create chances for himself as an individual," Naruo said. "Then, I want him to be the playmaker and help create chances for the other players. I want him to help the rest score more goals."

With almost half of his strikes coming from set pieces, Kawata also shared his coach's sentiments and said: "Personally, I like scoring by myself so I should improve on that and be more independent in creating opportunities when I play."

He also credited his team-mates for his strike rate, saying: "The reason why I'm scoring many goals is that I'm getting good balls. We have good wingers who provide very accurate crosses and passes."

The league leaders' tie against fourth-placed Geylang International tonight will be a crucial one in the Japanese side's quest for a maiden S-League crown. A victory at Jalan Besar Stadium will see Albirex open up a seven-point gap between them and second-placed Tampines Rovers, who are on 22 points.

To aid the club's mission, Kawata has set his sights on winning the S-League's Golden Boot. Also spurring the forward on is the fact that he has never won this accolade at any level of football.

The Hannan University graduate explained: "I've never won the Golden Boot before, including in my university or high school days. I can't imagine how happy I'd be if I do win it.

"By winning the Golden Boot, I think the team will also be able to win the league.

"My target, before the season, was to score 20 goals in the league. We're now halfway and I've 10 goals. This is in line with my expectations."

With half the season still to go, coach Naruo is slowly gaining confidence in his team's ability to clinch the championship but stressed that he is taking it match by match.

"All the players are very motivated and I'm enjoying the challenge for our first-ever S-League title," the 41-year-old said. "As a club, we want to win the title this season but as a team, our purpose is to grow after each game and improve ourselves one match at a time."

In last night's games, Home United thrashed defending champions Brunei DPMM 5-0 at Bishan Stadium to reclaim third spot (21 points), with the latter falling to fifth (18).

Garena Young Lions and Hougang United played out a 1-1 draw at Hougang Stadium. The Young Lions move up to eighth (7) while Hougang remained sixth (18).

Also in action tonight are the seventh-placed Warriors (11), who will host bottom side Balestier Khalsa (6) at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'High hopes for hotshot'. Print Edition | Subscribe