Home United 1 (Lee Kwan Woo 42’)
Albirex Niigata (Singapore) 0
Photo Credit: Home United Football Club/ Jaron Lee
Home United made up ground in their S.League championship pursuit as they defeated Albirex Niigata (Singapore) 1-0 at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
The only goal of the match came from South Korean marquee player Lee Kwan Woo whose direct free kick goal sealed three points to send his side up to third.
With their third loss of the season, Albirex failed to close the gap between themselves and leaders Tampines Rovers in what was their worst showing of the campaign.
Home signalled their intent of shaking up their ideas following a poor 2-3 reverse at Bandar Seri Begawan last week. Ismail Yunos returned to the starting eleven after a lengthy absence and Sofiyan Abdul Hamid came in place of the suspended Firdaus Idros.
Kenjiro Ogino was given the nod for his first start of the year ahead of regular custodian Hiroaki Hara, but it was a 45-minute minute showing the 22-year-old would rather forget in a hurry.
A tepid opening 40 minutes saw both teams cancelling each other out in midfield, with poor distribution in the final third leading to goal scoring opportunities at a premium.
The match eventually opened up when Ogino pulled over a save off a Hafiz Rahim volley inside the box before the latter skied his rebound over.
That save had a price though as the Japanese goalkeeper struggled to shake off the subsequent injury and would be culpable for the match winning goal.
Home secured three points with three minutes to go before the break when Lee sent in a direct 35-yard free kick from the left that Ogino failed to cover at the near post and allowed the ball to sail into the far bottom corner.
His misery was complete just before half-time when he finally succumbed to injury that led him to be rushed to hospital after he was substituted by Hara.
The Protectors’ tactics proved to be working as Albirex lacked the tenacity and spark they showed in previous matches and often resorted to direct balls that failed to trouble the red shirts.
Hafiz came close again on 54 minutes when his attempt skipped just past Hara’s right post before White Swans coach Koichi Sugiyama introduced Masatake Sato nine minutes later.
The tactical switch brought the previously lethargic Japanese back to life as they regained their attacking swagger and pressed for an equaliser.
Home goalkeeper Shahril Jantan saved twice from Kazuki Sakamoto while Sofiyan threw his body on the line to deny Castanheira a clear goal scoring chance.
Masrezwan Masturi then made a vital interception inside the box in the final moments of the game as Home hung on to bag three points at the final whistle.
Home United: Shahril Jantan (GK); Juma’at Jantan (Indra Sahdan Daud 46’), Ismail Yunos, Noh Rahman (C), Sirina Camara; Masato Fukui (Haziq Azman 68’), Jordan Webb (Nor Azli Yusoff 86’), Hafiz Rahim, Sofiyan Abdul Hamid; Masrezwan Masturi, Lee Kwan Woo
Yellow Card – Home Team: Noh Rahman 53’, Ismail Yunos 72’
Albirex Niigata (Singapore): Kenjiro Ogino (GK) (Hiroaki Hara – GK 45’); Itsuki Yamada, Yuki Ichikawa, Masahiro Ishikawa, Kento Fukuda; Shuhei Hotta (C), Takeshi Nagasawa (Masatake Sato 64’), Kento Nagasaki, Shingo Suzuki, Bruno Junichi Suzuki Castanheira; Kazuki Sakamoto