Tampines Rovers were crowned 2013 S.League champions on Sunday night after Balestier Khalsa powered their way to a convincing 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata at Jurong East Stadium.
Anything less than three points from the second-placed Japanese side would have left them with an insurmountable gap on the league leaders and so it proved, as the visitors prevailed to hand the Stages a third successive title.
For the Tigers, the victory re-ignited their hopes of claiming at least third spot and possibly even second, having drifted further down the table during their significant Singapore Cup and League Cup runs.
Albirex looked a little tentative in the middle of the park, defensively more uncertain than usual, but nothing could be taken away from Balestier, who were at their very best on this occasion.
Two fine individual goals from firstly Qiu Li in the 18th minute and then Park Kang Jin in the 43rd gave the Tigers a clear advantage by half-time, and it was no more than they deserved.
They might have had more, with Park clipping a lob inches over the crossbar in the 40th from 35 yards out, the Albirex goalkeeper caught well off his line.
It was not the White Swans’ day at all as they were guilty of too many stray passes for all their advances forward, and those proved costly.
On the attack, nothing went right for the home team who went close in the first-half a couple of times but needed a superbly-taken free-kick late on by Kento Nagasaki to get on the scoreboard.
In the 25th minute, when Kazuki Sakamoto managed to wriggle his way into the six-yard box, he was thwarted first by the legs of Tigers goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, making a great reflex save and then, as the ball spun towards the top left corner, by a last-ditch intervention from Paul Cunningham to boot the ball off the line.
That was tough luck for Albirex, who might have been level at that stage, but Balestier had already fashioned more chances and could have been further ahead themselves.
Qiu’s 35th-minute corner, for instance, was met by Gabriel Obadin with a firm header against the near post, with Cunningham’s attempt to make something of the rebound only enough for the ball to skim the crossbar and go just over.
The first goal by Qiu came after an Albirex defender had inexplicably sent a ball across in front of his own defenders. It was intercepted gleefully by the well-positioned forward, who coolly took the ball closer before tucking it past an exposed Hiroaki Hara.
Balestier’s second was Park at his very best, the Korean winning the ball after a soft tackle just outside the Albirex area and then picking his spot to perfection with a lovely left-footed finish.
Albirex came out in the second-half determined to get even, but Balestier looked more dangerous on the counter than Albirex did when going all out themselves, the discipline shown by a Tigers’ defence making their life too difficult.
The Albirex goal from Nagasaki was a clever free-kick curled around the wall and in off the left-hand upright, Zaiful getting only a fingertip to the ball to help it on its way, but it was too little, too late.