Albirex Niigata (S) 1 (Toshikazu Soya 51')
Gombak United 0
Photo courtesy of FAS
Toshikazu Soya's 51st-minute strike for Albirex Niigata was enough to see off the challenges of visitors Gombak United at Jurong East Stadium last night. But it was not one-way traffic for the White Swans though, as Gombak did create enough opportunities to score but the post denied them on two occasions. Coupled with good goalkeeping by Takuma Ito, it meant that Gombak did not eventually walk away with a point despite late pressure in the closing 15 minutes.
Albirex stated their intent right from kick-off and had their first chance as early as the fifth minute. Playing an one-two with Soya, Sho Kamimura's well-taken effort was then parried away by Gombak's Zaiful Nizam at his near post with his defence already beaten.
It was end-to-end stuff in the opening exchanges and on 10 minutes, Nurullah Hussein's header off Samuel Benjamin's right-wing cross was tipped over the bar by the impressive Ito. Three minutes later, Kamimura embarked on a lung-bursting down the left and beating all the defenders before slipping a low ball into the area for Musashi Okuyama who toe poked a shot wide.
And on 24 minutes, great vision by Sato saw him find Kamimura on the left with an accurate through pass but unfortunately for the latter, his powerful left-footed effort missed the target by inches.
Hafiz Rahim then fired over following a Julien Durand cutback before Durand himself spurned an opportunity to put his side into the lead just before half-time.
After Kunihiro Yamashita had given possession away cheaply, Durand picked up the loose ball and raced through on goal before firing a low shot which beat Ito but not the post as the Albirex players cleared the ball away to safety.
The home side started the second half like how they started the first, attacking and probing the Gombak backline as they took the lead five minutes after the restart.
Sho Kamimura's cross-shot from the left took a heavy deflection off Toshikazu Soya as it sailed towards goal. While Zaiful got a touch to try keep it out on the line, he could not stop the rebound as it came off his body and into the back of the net.
Soya could have added a second for his team after opening the scoring but his effort skimmed the bar before Obadin Aikhena's header on the other end drew a comfortable save from Ito as Gombak went in search for the equaliser.
Ito was once again called into action just before the 70th-minute mark and pulled off a superb reflex save from Hafiz Rahim's first-time volley just outside the area. The lively Hafiz then fired one narrowly over the bar after sneaking in between two orange shirts some ten minutes later.
Gombak continued to pile on the pressure and in the space of a minute, both Walid Lounis and Julien Durand had decent attempts but just could not bury them into goal. Takuma Ito then produced yet another splendid save one minute from time, tipping Lounis' goalbound header after the defender had connected with Hafiz's in-swinging corner from the left.
The final chance for the visitors came deep into stoppage time when substitute Fairoz Hasan caught Ito off his line. To the relief of the beaten shot-stopper, it cannoned off the post before Jung Hee Bong ballooned the rebound well over the bar as time eventually ran out for the Bulls.
It was their third straight league defeat but Gombak coach K Balagumaran remained unperturbed although the team's performance did not really please him on a whole.
One thing which did please coach Bala though, was the mental strength from his side which he found missing from them in their last few games.
With the upcoming transfer window around the corner, the former Tampines youth team coach mentioned that he is happy with the current team and does not plan to bring in any reinforcements except maybe for the Prime League, where is looking at 'bringing in one foreigner' into the team.
Albirex's Koichi Sugiyama on the other hand, was clearly delighted and felt that his team controlled the game which resulted in the victory.
On the performance of goalkeeper Takuma Ito who single-handedly kept Albirex in the game, the Japanese said: "Good, good. He is definitely one of the (club's) best player."
Albirex Niigata (S): Takuma Ito (GK), Norihiro Kawakami (C), Kunihiro Yamashita, Atsushi Shimono, Keisuke Matsui (Shuhei Hotta 73'), Musashi Okuyama, Sho Kamimura, Toshikazu Soya, Masatake Sato (Yuhei Shiratori 87'), Takeshi Ito, Hidekazu Yamamoto (Yuki Ichikawa 61') Unused subs: Keita Kobayashi, Masahiko Ando, Kohta Tamakawa, Hiroaki Hara
Gombak United: Zaiful Nizam (GK), Nurullah Hussein, Adrian Dhanaraj (Amin Rossady 51'), Hafiz Rahim, Ismail Yunos, Julien Durand, K Vikraman, Chris Anderson (Jung Hee Bong 71'), Obadin Aikhena (C), Samuel Benjamin (Fairoz Hasan 77'), Walid Lounis Unused subs: Farouq Farkhan, Mustaqim Manzur, Amran Addin, Fuad Jufri
Yellow card(s): - (Albirex); K Vikraman (Gombak)
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