The White Swans coach refused to acknowledge talk of a title challenge even after his side's fourth successive win on Monday nightAlbirex Niigata (Singapore) may have won their first four Great Eastern YEO’s S. League matches, leaving them comfortably at the top of the ladder, but nobody at the club is getting carried away with their early successes.
“It’s one game at a time, for us, we must stay focused,” cautioned a beaming White Swans’ coach, Koichi Sugiyama, when he met the media following the game.
Having already seen off two of his club’s likely rivals for the title, Home United and Brunei DPMM, as well as winning in Malaysia under a blazing hot sun against an unknown Harimau Muda team, he should be more than satisfied with his team’s work so far.
“DPMM were very strong and it was a very hard game for us,” he acknowledged.
“They showed a lot of speed, but we did not give up, all of my players were good tonight.
“At half time [when the score was 1-1] I spoke to the players about two things; attack and defence.
“In attack I asked them to speed up their passing and in defence I wanted them to be prepared to deal with the long balls played by the Brunei team and to concentrate very hard.
“I think they did that well and I’m pleased with the team. But we must take it one game at a time from now on."
DPMM coach, Vjeran Simunic, had a lot of things to deal with, both before and during the game.
He had his oldest player, Pg Sallehuddin Damit, suspended and his prize striker, Ivan Bosnjak, sitting in the stands and out of action after sustaining cheekbone fractures in the previous game.
Adding to his woes 35-year-old defender, Shahrulnizal Abd Rahman, was carried off near the end of the match with a meniscus injury that his coach feels will need at least six weeks for him to recover from.
“And at his age, who knows?” he added.
Even with so many injuries and absent players the coach was thrilled with his players’ performance.
“I always say I’d rather we play well and lose than play badly and win and we played very well indeed tonight and made a good game I feel.
“We now have three home games in a row and the local Bruneian players are doing us proud.
“I was very impressed with how hard they worked and with four of my best players missing they never let me down once.
“This was only our fourth game together as a team and tonight was our first loss of the season. I think Albirex are better every year and this is the best Albirex team we have played so far."
It was evident that, even after falling behind 2-1, the DPMM side always looked capable of fighting their way back for at least a share of the spoils.
With the 75th minute injury to Shahrulnizal Simunic explained that his attacking options were limited.
“I had to replace my centre back so I could not send on another striker," he added.
Indeed DPMM may well have snatched a point in the 80th minute when Azwan found some space and turned sharply, ten yards out, but Hara redeemed himself for his earlier blunder by tipping the ball over the bar, even though he was already six-yards off his line.
DPMM will next only be in action at the end of March with a home fixture against the Rams while Albirex will have a tricky tie against Courts Young Lions on March 20.