SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
With his team 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 a while 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 yesterday 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.
“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 at least a week.
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 past Albirex goalkeeper Kei Okawa.
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Webb doubled that advantage with a 56th-minute penalty after Albirex captain Kazuki Hashioka handled the ball in the area.
Having slumped to a surprise 2-1 defeat by Hougang United two weeks ago, 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 a 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.”