Albirex back on top after beating Young Lions, but injury crisis worsen

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SINGAPORE – Albirex Niigata leapfrogged the Lion City Sailors to reclaim top spot in the Singapore Premier League table after a 1-0 win over the Young Lions on Sunday (Aug 22), but their bid to retain their title has been made more challenging with an injury-hit frontline.

The White Swans, who were already without forwards Kiyoshiro Tsuboi, Fumiya Suzuki and Fairoz Hasan, saw their crisis worsen as forward Nicky Melvin Singh came off the pitch at Jalan Besar Stadium in the 32nd minute with an injury. The 19-year-old’s condition will be assessed at the hospital on Monday.

With five more games to go, they have to fend off the Lion City Sailors, who are just three points behind with a game in hand.

Albirex coach Keiji Shigetomi admitted that the club’s injury woes were concerning as the title race goes down to the wire.

He said: “That (injuries) can happen and I accept it. We have to prepare well to play the same football no matter who we play.”

Up against bottom dwellers Young Lions, Albirex took an early lead in the third minute courtesy of a penalty by Ryosuke Nagasawa after Ong Yu En was brought down by Syarul Sazali in the penalty box.

While the hosts began piling on the pressure with a slew of chances, including an effort in the 17th minute by foward Ilhan Fandi that was cleared off the line by Reo Kunimoto, the Young Lions could not convert as Albirex held on for the 1-0 win.

But Shigetomi will be expecting more from his side the next time, saying: “Young Lions played better than us. They were really intense and we could not steal their ball in this match.

“But we still have five matches and we have to focus on the remaining games.”

Young Lions coach Philippe Aw lauded his charges for another impressive showing. Since the season restarted in July after the international break, they have enjoyed a decent run, bagging their first two wins of the season against Balestier Khalsa, a draw with Tanjong Pagar United and two narrow losses to Hougang and Albirex.

Aw said: “We had good ball retention and created chances which we didn’t put away. There were good moments as well in our pressing game, the boys matched Albirex’s work rate and took the game to them.”

Putting his side’s progress down to the players’ willingness to learn and a positive team culture, he added: “The processes we have established are important which means building a foundation first before adding on to it. We have been methodical in our approach.”

Analysis

The title race between Albirex Niigata and Lion City Sailors could potentially be decided by goal difference and the White Swans’ depleted strike force will definitely be a big challenge for the defending champions.

The Sailors on the other hand look to be settling well under new coach Kim Do-hoon and have most of their key players available.

A rejuvenated Young Lions side could see themselves lifted from the bottom of the table if they continue performing as they have in the past few games. They are three points from sixth and seventh-ranked Balestier and Geylang International – who are both on 13 points – with the former having a game in hand.

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