BY Nigel Chin Follow on Twitter
Despite trailing to Brunei DPMM FC on goal difference, their 1-0 victory, coupled with DPMM’s 2-1 loss to Tampines Rovers, allowed them to clinch the league title by a marginal 3 points at the last day of the season.
In a tight match, Warriors did just what everyone had expected them to do – attack from the very first whistle.
However, profligacy in front of goal, especially from their top scorer Nicholas Velez, meant that they struggled to get that all important goal they craved for, although their movement caused problems of all sorts for the Japanese side.
Yet, it was Albirex who had the first real opportunity to open the scoring in the 12th minute, only for Hassan Sunny to prevent Taiyo Nishida’s effort from creeping in after Velez and Hafiz had missed their chances minutes earlier.
Kazuki Sakamoto then saw his attempt to catch Hassan Sunny off his line go wide a minute later.
It was all Warriors after that, as they dominated possession and pinned Albirex in their own half, but found their solid back four a tough nut to crack.
Velez had a great opportunity 10 minutes before the break after beating his man twice, but could only his shot from 12 yards rise way over the bar.
It was a different story after the half-time break though. Warriors, seemingly more determined and relentless than ever, then broke the deadlock just 3 minutes into the second period.
Off a set-piece that amounted to nothing, Daniel Bennett retrieved the ball on the right flank and sent a cross which Velez unselfishly nodded back onto Hafiz’s path, and the former Singapore international made no mistake from 3 yards out.
With the goal, Warriors were content to sit back, inviting Albirex to seize the initiative. Hassan was called into action several times, including a superb flying saves to deny Albirex captain Itsuki Yamada’s volley from 30 yards out and Okazaki’s freekick that looked like it was headed for the top corner.
A change in shape to 4-4-2 ensued for Warriors, as head coach Alex Weaver sought to protect his lead by bringing out Zulfadli Zainal, as well as slowing down their tempo.
The plan worked a treat, as Albirex were seemingly shut down in midfield with front pairing Velez and Miroslav Pejic constantly doing the chasing from up top, as Warriors saw off Albirex – and DPMM – to win their first S.League title in five years.