Football: Tampines replace Albirex as Singapore Premier League leaders after 2-0 win

Tampines Rovers' Syahrul Sazali celebrates after scoring against Albirex Niigata during their Singapore Premier League match at Our Tampines Hub on Oct 31, 2020. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Trailing by a goal after 20 minutes, Albirex Niigata coach Keiji Shigetomi was dealt a second blow when he watched Reo Nishiguchi limp off the field shortly later after twisting his ankle.

Without their in-form striker, who had scored in each of his last five games, the White Swans lacked that cutting edge up front as Tampines Rovers closed out the game to win 2-0 on Saturday (Oct 31) and leapfrog the Japanese side at the summit of the Singapore Premier League (SPL).

Albirex lost for the first time this season but Shigetomi remained positive.

"Of course it's regrettable that we lost but the players worked very hard to try and get a goal tonight so we cannot fault their effort," he said.

"We dominated play in the second half and we're lacking that killer touch to get goals so this is something we must improve on for the next match and get three points," he noted, adding other players will now have a chance to step up with Nishiguchi set to be out of action for one to two weeks.

For Stags coach Gavin Lee, whose side earned the three points thanks to strikes from Syahrul Sazali and Jordan Webb, the high tempo performance was most pleasing.

He said: "We reflected before this game and tried to score from certain areas and it worked out so all credit to the boys for applying it and adapting to the situation.

"Towards the end, it was just their mental strength and they held on even though it's not easy to do so against a side like Albirex."

The Stags took the lead when Syahrul slotted a right-footed strike past Albirex goalkeeper Kei Okawa. Webb doubled that advantage with a 56th minute penalty after Albirex captain Kazuki Hashioka's handled the ball in the area.

Having slumped to a surprise 2-1 defeat two weeks ago to Hougang United, this was the perfect response from Tampines skipper Daniel Bennett and his teammates.

There was no time to celebrate though, with another two games in quick succession. They face the Young Lions on Wednesday and Geylang International three days later.

Bennett, whose defence has kept four clean sheets in their five outings, said: "I don't really look at the table to be honest. The best is if we just come in, train and play our best each week.

"Of course we want to win the league but whether it'll happen or not I don't know because there's still a long way to go and there will be times when we don't get the result we want.

"We played against very good team and know they've had chances as well so it was quite an open game and we're really happy to win."

The season has been shortened from three rounds to two rounds of fixtures (24 games to 16) due to the pandemic but Lee was keen to take any pressure off his players.

He said: "(Our position) doesn't really mean much right now. We're a team of players and staff who want to take one game at a time. It's a nice position but we don't really care for it right now, we're just focused on the next game.

"All we can do is make sure they get enough sleep, eat well and get well-rested to gain as much freshness as possible going into the Young Lions game."

Analysis

The loss of Nishiguchi hit Albirex hard as without his clinical conversions, this was their first defeat of the season and first time they failed to score a goal.

While his replacement Ryoya Taniguchi and Tomoyuki Doi were good with their build-up play, they lacked the finishing touch Nishiguchi offers as evidenced by his five goals this term.

With the 23-year-old set to be out for one to two weeks, his team will have to rely on other options such as forwards Doi and Ryosuke Nagasawa.

Tampines' back five also did well to quash Albirex's attempts on goal while goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari was a reliable last line of defence as he made several crucial saves in the last 30 minutes to preserve the clean sheet.

It was the fourth shutout in five games for the Stags, laying the foundation for them to win their first SPL title since 2013.

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