Inaba To The Rescue For White Swans
Written by: Phoon Jia Hui
Shuto Inaba struck a stoppage time winner to help Albirex Niigata (S) edge Warriors FC 2-1 at Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Saturday night and go six points clear of second-placed Tampines Rovers in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League.
With the result, Albirex now lead the pack with 37 points after 15 games played while Warriors remain in fourth on 25 points.
It took the visitors just five minutes to open the scoring as Nagasaki pounced on a loose ball inside the box before firing a shot that took a deflection and flew past a wrong-footed Hyrulnizam Juma’at.
Albirex could have gone two up immediately after, but Hyrulnizam made himself big and denied hotshot Tsubasa Sano twice in quick succession.
Warriors however, did have their chances after falling behind.
Hafiz Nor curled one wide from the edge of the box on nine minutes before Kento Fukuda’s snapshot moments later was easily gathered by Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa.
The next noteworthy opportunity would come in the 24th minute as Warriors threatened to pull level but Hafiz could only fire straight at Nozawa after being teed up by skipper Shahril Ishak.
At the other end, Shoichiro Sakamoto saw his effort blocked for a corner on the half-hour mark, with Naofumi Tanaka heading over from the ensuing set-piece.
It was Warriors who finished the half strongly as they looked the more dangerous of the two sides.
Ciolacu released Webb down the right but the Canadian blazed over from a tight angle in the 32nd minute before defender Baihakki Khaizan drew a flying save from Nozawa three minutes before the break.
The hosts were duly rewarded with the equaliser on the strike of half-time as mid-season signing Ciolacu met Webb’s cross before glancing a header past Nozawa for his first league goal.
Koki Sato could have restored parity for Albirex immediately after the restart but the 21-year-old was foiled by Hyrulnizam who was quick off his line.
Shahril was next to come close in the 51st minute but the Singapore captain poked narrowly over from six yards after Ciolacu had done well to lay off Webb’s cross into his path.
Webb was then guilty of missing a gilt-edged chance in the 72nd minute, drilling low at Nozawa from close range.
Three minutes later, Webb slipped Ciolacu through on goal but the Romanian was denied by Nozawa.
Substitute Ryota Nakai then had his shot parried by Hyrulnizam towards the end but it mattered little as Albirex would score the winner deep into injury time through Inaba.
The White Swans skipper took a shot at goal and the ball took a slight deflection before looping over Hyrulnizam to send the Albirex bench and fans into raptures.
Warriors will look to return to winning ways when they face Hougang United at Jalan Besar Stadium next Friday (4 August) while Albirex take on Geylang International at Jurong East a day later.
Warriors FC Head Coach Razif Onn: “We didn’t take our chances today, as simple as that. We had three or four situations which we could have scored but didn’t convert.
“After playing them (Albirex) so many times this season, we managed to contain them for large periods of the game.
“It will be difficult for the title but we are not giving up and I am not blaming the tight scheduling because my team is relatively injury-free.”
Albirex Niigata (S) Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “My players worked very hard today and gave their all for this game. Warrriors have good attacking players and it’s not easy to keep a clean sheet against them.
“This was our eighth game in the month of July which is tough but I’m happy that the players have shown maturity as the season progresses. This game showed that the team has matured.
“I will now be giving the players three days off to recharge and we will prepare for August’s schedule when we come back.”
Warriors FC: Hyrulnizam Juma'at (GK), Emmeric Ong, Baihakki Khaizan, Kento Fukuda, Ho Wai Loon, Syaqir Sulaiman, Poh Yi Feng (Shaiful Esah 71’), Hafiz Nor, Shahril Ishak (C), Jordan Webb, Andrei-Cosmin Ciolacu (Fadhil Noh 88’)
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Yasutaka Yanagi, Takuya Akiyama, Naofumi Tanaka, Rui Kumada (Ryota Nakai 88’), Shuto Inaba (C), Kento Nagasaki, Koki Sato (Yuuki Yamanouchi 70’), Shoichiro Sakamoto (Ryuya Motoda 60’), Tsubasa Sano