Singapore Premier League • March 22, 2014

Tigers Slump To First Defeat


Written By: Kenneth Ho

Albirex Niigata returned to winning ways on Friday evening with a 1-0 win over Balestier Khalsa at Jalan Besar Stadium in a tight game.

Having lost their previous match 3-1 to Hougang United, they bounced back against the Tigers as Kazuki Sakamoto notched the winner just before the break to condemn their opponents to their first defeat of the season.

The game got off to a slow start but it was Albirex who managed to retain most of the ball possession, as they tried to patiently probe through the opposition defence.

The Japanese side had their first sniff at goal in the ninth minute when Sakamoto’s drive from the edge of the box whistled past the post. The same man was at it again on 22 minutes, narrowly failing to reach Keisuke Ota’s cross to the far post.

Balestier could have grabbed the lead when Goran Ljubojevic met a corner with a bullet header, but Albirex goalkeeper Kenjiro Ogino was equal to the task.

Albirex then went ahead in the 43rd minute when captain Itsuki Yamada ran into the box and cut the ball back from the left for Sakamoto to slam past goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.

It could have been worse two minutes later when Kento Nagasaki’s corner found Kento Fujihara at the back post but the latter hoofed his shot over.

There was no sign of improvement from the Tigers after the break as Albirex maintained their offensive charge.

Ota had a half-chance on 63 minutes when Sakamoto’s shot was charged down by Emir Lotinac and the rebound fell for him, but the midfielder hit his shot wide.

Sakamoto was then guilty of missing a gilt-edged opportunity in the 70th minute when the unmarked striker headed over from three yards out.

In a rare foray up front, Balestier were gifted a chance when Ogino dropped a cross in front of a lurking Ljubojevic but Soichiro Tanaka saved his goalkeeper’s blushes with a hurried clearance.

Despite three minutes of added time, Balestier were unable to conjure up much beyond that as they slumped to a poor defeat.