Tanjong Pagar and Albirex Niigata could only register a goalless draw as two well-drilled defensive units held their ground
When second played third at Queenstown Stadium on Tuesday night it was always likely to be a cagey affair and that’s how things turned out, as Tanjong Pagar United held Albirex Niigata (Singapore) to a goalless draw.
The result maintained the distance between the two sides, a matter of a mere four points, leaving the possibility of the Jaguars catching the White Swans and moving closer to leaders Tampines Rovers as the season winds down.
There was little to excite the crowd in the first-half, which saw Albirex do most of the attacking and forcing a number of corner kicks and earning as many free kicks, but with the well-drilled Tanjong Pagar defence more than equal to the task.
Two of those free kicks were headed clear by a home backline that had Ahmad Latiff and Anthony Aymard doing a sterling job of snuffing out the danger posed by Bruno Castanheira and Kazuki Sakamoto.
Towards the end of the half, however, the Albirex defence had an escape after John Wilkinson sent a lofted pass through for Ismael Benahmed, but the latter could not get his 45th minute volley on target, much to the relief of the White Swans fans.
The second half was a lot livelier, with Sakamoto testing Jaguars’ keeper Aurelien Herisson but that 49th minute effort was the best the visitors could offer until later in the match, with saves from Herisson in the final 15 minutes earning him his keep, well and truly.
Wilkinson burst through in the 54th minute only to see his shot from 20 yards well-off target.
The Singapore international, however, is clearly gaining match fitness now and his forward runs looked promising every time he made them.
But with the entire Albirex defence at their very best there was little that Tanjong Pagar’s other star players, Benahmed, Monsef Zerka and Kamel Ramdani could do on this occasion to break the deadlock.
Jaguars’ coach, Patrick Vallee, threw on Hafiz Nor for Asraf Rashid for the final 15 minutes and the former posed some threat to Albirex, though not enough to secure all three points.
Much of that disappointment for the home fans can be put down to excellent defending by Albirex, whose control of the game became even stronger once regular captain, Shuhei Hotta, was introduced at the hour mark.
After that there was a sense that a goal would not be coming thanks to two well-organised and sound defensive units and so it proved as the game wound down towards a compelling 0-0 draw.