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The Australian is targeting second place in the league.

Stewart: We want to finish the season strongly

The Australian is targeting second place in the league.

Chegu Thamrin

The Balestier Khalsa coach was delighted with the win over Albirex Niigata as his side chase second spot, while counterpart Koichi Sugiyama rued two first-half mistakes

Balestier Khalsa coach Darren Stewart was once again full of praise for his players after another top-notch performance earned them three valuable points, and in the process ensured that Tampines Rovers would be confirmed S.League champions for a third successive season.

Stewart made it clear that the 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata on Sunday night was not about stopping their opponents from making the task of Tampines any harder, but all about his own team finishing the season off strongly.

“As always I must emphasise that there was not one player who did not contribute to this win tonight, they were all putting in [their best] and it was definitely one of our better games,” he said after the match.

“People have accused us of playing a long-ball game many times this season, but I’m sure you’ll agree that we weren’t doing that this evening and that goes for most of our games this year, in fact.

“After we missed out on a place in the Singapore Cup final, the players were really disappointed and it was hard for them to get their heads up again for these remaining games.

“I gave them four days off to get their heads together again and then we had three or four really good training sessions leading into this game.

“We played a lot of good football in this game and Albirex are a good side, so we had to work for it.”

Stewart agreed that with Home United looking to claim second spot and Albirex now sitting ducks, his own team now has a chance of pushing past both of them.

Reminded that Home, who knocked his side out of the Singapore Cup, have to meet the Tigers again during the remaining three games of this final half-round, he perked up.

“We’ll be ready for them too,” the Australian said with a glint in his eye.

Whatever happens in the next match, when Home tackle champions Tampines, Stewart knows his side can make their own game against the Protectors really count.

Koichi Sugiyama, the White Swans’ coach, explained post-match that an injury sustained during the warm-up had robbed his side of the input of 35-year-old Shingo Suzuki, who was replaced by 19-year-old Kazuya Fukuzaki at the right-back position.  

“We had a game plan for this match,” he explained.

“We wanted to use it for our last few games, but without Shingo it was not the same. It was an accident during the warm-up and we have to check him later to see if he can play next time. We’re not sure until we check.”

With the title lost, Sugiyama has turned his attention to improving his team’s displays.

“Two mistakes really cost us the game,” he went on.

“Balestier played very well, but in the second-half we played ‘our football’ and we played it well.

“We are not looking so much at the table now or at the results, but at the performance over the remaining matches.”