SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Lion City 2
Albirex Niigata 2
Big-spending Lion City Sailors had stumbled against Albirex Niigata last season with two losses in as many games, and the defending champions proved again last night to be the biggest hurdle in the Sailors' hunt for a first Singapore Premier League title this term.
Up against table toppers Albirex, the Sailors needed a late equaliser from Brazilian defender and new signing Jorge Fellipe to salvage a point against the Japanese side in a 2-2 draw at Jalan Besar Stadium.
While the Sailors started strongly in the tie, Albirex took the lead in the 17th minute after the hosts' poor defending from a set piece saw Shuya Yamashita nodding in the first goal.
Slack marking from the Sailors again gifted the visitors with their second goal in the 42nd minute, with defender Yamashita rising highest to emphatically head in a corner kick from Kuraba Kondo.
Sailors forward Stipe Plazibat handed his side a lifeline with a header of his own off a deep cross from Nur Adam Abdullah to take the score to 1-2.
In the second half, the Sailors controlled most of the possession but failed to test Albirex goalkeeper Takahiro Koga.
An 84th-minute free kick just outside the box from Shahdan Sulaiman was adjudged to have struck the hand of an Albirex player, leaving referee Ahmad A'Qashah no choice but to point to the spot. But Plazibat's penalty was palmed away by Koga.
With $2.9m star signing Diego Lopes shut out by the Albirex midfield and unable to make a difference, it was Sailors defender Fellipe who saved a point for his side as the 1.9m player headed into goal off a cross from the right flank from Naqiuddin Eunos.
Sailors head coach Aurelio Vidmar said: "I don't know what it is with Albirex but we are always coming back from a two-goal deficit. It doesn't make a game easier when it is like that but we conceded two set-piece goals which is very unusual for us.
Crediting his players for their comeback, he added: "We showed a lot of character tonight in terms of continually playing our style of game and causing some issues for them in the defensive third. We had a couple of chances to finish off the game but it was not meant to be tonight."
Albirex head coach Keiji Shigetomi said: "My players worked very hard for the game. We are disappointed that we conceded towards the end. We will need to be more calm on the ball and learn to close out the game."
The draw leaves Albirex on top of the SPL table on 11 points, one ahead of Hougang United and Tampines Rovers, who are second and third respectively on 10. The Sailors are fourth on eight points.
In the evening's other results, Tanjong Pagar registered their first point of the season in an entertaining 3-3 draw with Hougang at Jurong East Stadium, while Tampines thumped the Young Lions 7-0. Balestier Khalsa recorded a second consecutive win after a 2-1 victory over Geylang International at the Toa Payoh Stadium.