The White Swans edged the Tigers 1-0 as Kazuki Sakamoto's strike proved enough to separate both teams in a tight contest
Balestier Khalsa fell to their first defeat of the season after Kazuki Sakamoto’s solitary strike was enough to see Albirex Niigata emerge 1-0 victors at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday evening.
It was a tight game with few chances as the White Swans dominated the game while the Tigers struggled without Park Kang Jin, who was out injured.
As expected, Albirex saw a lot of the ball in the opening exchanges and mustered the first real chance of the match after 10 minutes. Sakamoto received the ball on the edge of the penalty box, but his effort went just wide off the target.
The forward then missed a golden opportunity midway through the first half after Keisuke Ota delivered a perfect cross into the six yard box, but he somehow failed to connect with the ball.
The Tigers were on the back foot for majority of the game and their first real opportunity came four minutes before the break when Goran Ljubojevic reached the end of a corner, but his header was comfortably saved by Kenjiro Ogino.
The Japanese side then took the lead on the stroke of half time after Itsuki Yamada capitalised on some hesitant defending and pegged the ball back from the byline for Sakamoto to slam home.
The White Swans still had enough time to muster another opportunity before the first half ended but Kento Fujihira somehow missed the target from three yards following a corner.
Albirex continued their dominance in the second period without really troubling Balestier custodian Zaiful Nizam, but they did come close again on 68 minutes.
Tajeli Salamat conceded a foul on the edge of the penalty box but Kento Nagasaki’s resulting free-kick went just wide. They missed another glorious opportunity a few minutes later after Ota did well to beat his marker on the right and crossed the ball to Sakomoto, who headed the ball wide from six yards.
Balestier’s best chance of the second period came via Paul Cunningham’s header from Tajeli’s free kick, but Ogino was equal to his effort.
That was as much as the Tigers could muster as they were unable to trouble the Albirex defence further, as the White Swans went home with the three points.
Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama was satisfied with the victory despite his team failing to add to their solitary goal after dominating the game.
“I think winning 1-0 is very beautiful,” he said. “Balestier played more defensively than we thought, that’s why we could play the way we wanted to play for tonight.”
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic, on the other hand, put the defeat down to the loss of Park, who withdrew from the team on Thursday after a knee injury.
“It’s no excuse, but the day before the game I found out Park couldn’t play, so a lot of things had to be changed,” he lamented.
“Our players worked very hard, we closed down and defended well. They (Albirex) keeping possession is no danger for us, but when we won possession we couldn’t keep the ball. This was a little bit of a problem. Without Park we struggled, he can do this very well, he can hold the ball and can make the key passes.
“This guy is everything, but we must learn to live without him. It’s a mentality [ssue]. The game must carry on, someone else must take responsibility.”
The result leaves Balestier in fourth place with seven points, while Albirex lie in seventh place with one point less.