Home United 0
Albirex Niigata 3
Before last night's match against Home United at Jalan Besar Stadium, Albirex Niigata striker Atsushi Kawata had four goals from six games - all of which were scored in a 5-0 win over Garena Young Lions in February.
Last night, he soared to the top of the scoring charts as he bagged a hat-trick of headers to see off the Protectors, giving him a total of seven goals, one more than Hougang United's Croatian forward Stipe Plazibat.
The result also moved the White Swans back to the top of the nine-team S-League on 14 points, ahead of Tampines Rovers on goal difference, while Home (eight points) dropped to seventh.
"I believe Kawata can score goals even though he played on the wing. Our style of play... the wingers have to cut inside," said Albirex coach Naoki Naruo.
The 23-year-old, who turned down a chance to play in Japan's second tier with FC Gifu before signing for Albirex last year, was helped in part by Home's poor marking from set-pieces, with two of his goals coming from corners.
Despite the lop-sided scoreline, Home coach Philippe Aw believed that his side more than matched the White Swans, a team they have not beaten in eight matches.
He said: "We weren't outplayed. (The defeat) came down to individual errors. You have to deal with balls that come into the six-yard box. It's disappointing that all three goals were free headers."
Regular centre-back Abdil Qaiyyim suffered a knee injury a day before and had to be withdrawn, which contributed to the confusion in Home's back-line.
Seven games in, the Protectors have eight points from a possible 21 - a situation which Aw admitted is below par.
After all, the squad boasts former Bundesliga striker Ken Ilso and talented foreigners in Korean Song Ui Young and Frenchman Sirina Camara.
In the off-season, they also signed national team players Zulfahmi Arifin, Khairul Nizam and Faris Ramli, as well as Fandi Ahmad's two eldest sons, Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi.
However, Irfan and Ikhsan will play limited roles from now as they have enlisted for national service.
"We can do much better. It doesn't help that we had to deal with several injuries, so we couldn't field our best players," Aw said.
"It's not easy to come from another team to play the style of football we want. But we have to pick ourselves up.
"We have to go back and improve on things we didn't do well - and that's clearly defending corners."
In the night's other match, defending league champions Brunei DPMM beat Garena Young Lions 4-1 at the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium.