White Swans continue soaring with fifth consecutive victory

The Japanese side ran out narrow victors over bottom side Young Lions, although the scoreline did not reflect the league leaders' dominance of possession
By Teng Kiat

Albirex Niigata (S) kept up their perfect start to the season as they racked up a fifth consecutive win with a 1-0 victory over the Courts Young Lions on Wednesday night.

Kazuki Sakamoto’s third goal of the season midway through the first half handed the league leaders a win achieved with a relative degree of comfort against the cellar-dwellers, who at least couldn’t be faulted for effort.

Bruno Castanheira was the main outlet for the visitors in the opening stages as he faced up against makeshift left-back Sufianto Salleh, normally more accustomed to a forward role. The Brazil-born player twice latched on to good passes to cross for Sakamoto, but the striker miscued a volley the first time round, before narrowly failing to connect with the second cross as the goal gaped.

Ignatius Ang slammed a low drive wide and Shami Sharif blasted another attempt well over on sporadic attacks from the Young Lions, as Albirex started to get their passing game going.

That paid off in the 25th minute when captain Shuhei Hotta split open the home side’s defence with a splendid 50-yard ball. Sakamoto latched on to it like a flash and still had plenty of work to do, but kept his cool to curl in a fine finish past Rudy Khairullah from an angle.

The White Swans came close to doubling their lead five minutes before halftime, but Rudy did well to block Castanheira’s angled drive after the winger had jinked past two players on the right.

Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar brought on Farhan Rahmat after the break for the ineffective Ignatius Ang and pushed Sherif El-Masri into the targetman role, as they sought a way back into the game.

Albirex continued to keep possession with relative ease and seemed content to see out their one-goal lead,with the home side simply failing to find the decisive final pass when it mattered on their breaks.

Sheikh Abdul Hadi headed over at a corner and Tajeli Salamat fired a long-range effort high and wide as the White Swans dealt well with those half-chances, with the influential Hotta dictating much of their play.

Castanheira did well to slalom his way past two opponents on the right before dinking the ball into the box, but the cross was well headed away as the clock ticked down.

Shamil had the final chance of the game with a half-volley from the edge of the box, but the midfielder fired his first-time effort straight into Hiroaki Hara’s grateful arms as Albirex notched their fifth single-goal winning margin of the season.