Albirex Niigata (Singapore) reclaimed second spot on the Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League ladder with a hard-earned 1-0 win over a disciplined Balestier Khalsa at Toa Payoh Stadium on Tuesday evening.
This was always likely to be a tight affair and so it proved, with both sides showing equal respect for one another.
For a long time it looked as if the woodwork and some brilliant goalkeeping would deny either side a goal and the points would have to be shared, but the visiting White Swans had done their homework well, rode their luck and gained the upper hand after taking an 80th minute lead through their veteran ex-J.League star, Shingo Suzuki.
Patience was certainly the key to the Albirex win as they had up to that point been unable to break down a stubborn Balestier, who never gave their visitors a chance to play their normal brand of passing football.
But patience is always the keynote for this Japanese side, and so it proved here once again.
Balestier had Zulkiffli Hassim showing a lot of speed out wide on the left, with Ruhaizad Ismail complementing that with his own all-action display on the right that kept the White Swans busy for most of the match.
Balestier star Qiu Li was at his best as well, managing to find room for a telling shot or two, aided and abetted by a quick-thinking Park Kang Jin, his ever-alert ally.
Even defender Syed Thaha managed to get forward a few times, once with a lung-bursting run through the middle that ended with a long-range shot that flew barely wide.
Qi Li had his best chance in the first-half when he collected the ball just outside the 18-yard area on the left and unleashed a low drive that whistled towards the right of goal and smashed into the far upright with some venom.
He also must have thought he’d finally scored in the 76th minute with another fierce effort after picking up a loose ball on the edge of the area, but Albirex goalkeeper Hiroaki Hara flung himself brilliantly to his left to make a stunning save.
Patience was rewarded for Albirex four minutes later when Bruno Castanheira made inroads from the left and cut the ball back to the centre. Suzuki needed no second invitation and slammed the ball just inside the right-hand upright to give his side the 1-0 win.