Reo Nishiguchi faces his biggest test today as Singapore Premier League (SPL) leaders Albirex Niigata take on Tampines Rovers.
Nishiguchi, who has found the net in all five matches this season, will face a Stags backline that has conceded just two goals in four games. Both came in their shock 2-1 defeat by Hougang United when the SPL restarted on Oct 17.
Tampines won their first three games before the coronavirus halted the season in March. Victory over the Japanese side will see them return to the top of the table.
Both Albirex and Balestier Khalsa have 11 points but the White Swans have a superior goal difference.
Nishiguchi had snatched a dramatic late winner in last week’s 3-2 win over the Lion City Sailors but played down his own contributions.
The 23-year-old forward from Osaka said: “I will run hard for the team and try to score. Our ultimate target is to win the title. I’m happy to score for the team and I’ll focus on one match at a time.
“(Last week) was the first time this season we won a tight game. I’m happy with the team’s never-say-die spirit and the previous result will give us confidence for future games.”
Albirex remain the league’s only unbeaten team and know three points at Our Tampines Hub will be a significant boost in claiming their fourth league crown in the last five years.
The season has been shortened from three to two rounds of fixtures (each team will play 16 games) because of the pandemic.
The pandemic has also caused defending champions Brunei DPMM to withdraw from the competition as “there are currently no provisions in Brunei that allow them to travel to Singapore”, the Football Association of Singapore announced on Monday.
But Albirex head coach Keiji Shigetomi is not thinking of silverware yet, saying his priority is to correct the mistakes from their last outing against the Sailors.
Tampines v Albirex
Ch111/Ch202, Our Tampines Hub, 5.20pm
Lion City Sailors v Young Lions Ch112/Ch201, Bishan Stadium, 5.20pm
Tanjong Pagar v Hougang Ch111/Ch202, Jurong East Stadium, 5.20pm
All on Singtel TV/StarHub and
SPL’s Facebook page
He credited Nishiguchi’s performance to a result of “good team play” and noted: “I am happy with the win against Sailors as the players showed fighting spirit all the way. We have to work on the goals conceded and improve our control of the tempo of the game.
“Tampines have many good attacking players, so we have to defend well against them as a team. This match is important for us, so our players will be focused on getting the win.”
It has been two weeks since Tampines’ surprise loss to Hougang and coach Gavin Lee has had plenty of time to analyse what went wrong.
Lee, 30, said: “The result was disappointing but there was no lack of effort in that game.
“Albirex are a good side, so we need to perform at 100 per cent. We just need to remain calm and work on our usual playing principles each day to maintain our quality.
“We’ve watched every game they’ve played this season and they have a striker scoring goals.
“But we’re not just looking at the person who finishes, we’re looking at how they’re creating those chances as well and making sure we play at our best against them.”