A superbly well-organised and unexpectedly confident Courts Young Lions side emerged from their Sunday evening Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League game at Jalan Besar Stadium with a 1-1 draw over Albirex Niigata (Singapore).
After beginning tentatively, the home side slowly worked their way into a strong position, having benefitted from an early own goal and then more than matching the White Swans despite conceding an equaliser within two minutes of taking the lead.
By the time the match reached its conclusion, the Young Lions were well on top, and it looked as if Albirex had completely run out of ideas.
“I think we did enough to win the game,” said home coach Robin Chitrakar after it was all over.
“We created more chances than they did, but we failed to take them. I don’t think they had many chances at all for all their possession, and we were on our game today.”
Even though his charges were playing their second game in a few days and have another match coming up on Thursday, his players looked to have gained control of the game long before the end.
Their backline soaked up the inevitable pressure and broke any promising moves as soon as they looked like leading to anything close to goal.
Albirex coach Koichi Sugiyama had expressed the view before the game that his opponents included many good individual players but were not too well-organised as a unit.
But the former Urawa Red Diamonds defender had to eat his words as his side huffed and puffed for 90 minutes without finding any way past a Young Lions side that had clearly done their homework.
“We could not get control of the game or gain enough possession,” admitted the 40-year-old.
“We played the long ball at times, but it did not work for us this evening. The Young Lions were very compact and hard to break down.
“The pitch was difficult to play on as it was slippery and we had to settle for the draw.”
Sugiyama felt that his team, in drawing this game and so many other recent matches, were doing better than his 2011 team had done, since last season they had lost three games on the trot in March.
But with three draws now they appear to be playing more conservatively and with a surprising level of caution, compared to last season’s cavalier approach.
Goals as well as points are becoming hard to come by this season for the White Swans, who might have expected to win this one, given the home side’s results against the main title contenders so far, the most recent a 1-2 loss to holders Tampines Rovers.
Albirex were clearly the better side early in the game, Toshikazu Soya lifting the ball just over the bar in the tenth minute after a quick throw on the left, the shot from 15 yards out presenting the visitors with an excellent early chance to score.
Most of the early play belonged to the Japanese side, though the Young Lions did win an early unproductive corner.
But on 19 minutes, an innocuous-looking free kick awarded to the hosts just inside the Albirex half of the field and out on the touchline led to the opener.
Aqhari Abdullah sent in a searching delivery to a crowded goalmouth, with Jonathan Toto and Sirina Camara joining in the thrust for aerial dominance around the penalty mark.
As that pair rose to try and get their heads to the cross, Shuhei Hotta outdid them both as he directed the perfect own goal past goalkeeper Takuma Ito, finding the top right corner for a goal that was certainly against the run of play.
At that stage Albirex were looking quite capable of overcoming that setback and then going on to win the game comfortably.
The first part they succeeded in doing, and the equaliser on 21 minutes was a quality goal indicative of what observers might have expected from this classy team based on some of their strikes already this term.
Soya finished the move off with a crisp, low finish after Musashi Okuyama had weaved his way past three defenders before threading a ball through to his teammate inside the six-yard box.
But there was no dominance after that, and the White Swans found themselves chasing the game, even at 1-1, as the three points were more important to them than to the Young Lions.
It was clear, however, by the time the second half was drawing to its conclusion that the Young Lions were chasing the win equally as hard, with a greater chance of managing it as they had most bases covered during that second period.
Before any of that showed, Albirex might well have had the lead midway into the first half.
A cross from the left by Takeshi Ito produced a glancing header from Soya that flew agonisingly wide.
Aqhari then tried one from 30 yards on 29 minutes, and seeing the shot late, goalkeeper Ito had to take last-ditch action to tip the ball over the bar.
A great saving tackle from Hotta on 54 denied Young Lions attacker Shahfiq Ghani, who looked set to capitalise from a neat Toto nod-on, with a crunching tackle to save his exposed goalkeeper‘s skin.
Another sound passing move by the visitors was snuffed out by a compact Young Lions defence, who restricted Soya to a shot that was clipped just over the bar moments before the hour mark.
A big tackle by the versatile Camara on Soya on 64 brought another promising Albirex run to an end, but the action at the other end was beginning to prove as fast and as furious.
Aqhari played a visionary long ball for Shahfiq, with the promising striker looking a good chance to get there before the goalkeeper, who had to race well outside his area to boot clear eventually.
The introduction of Navin Vanu and Sherif El-Masri for Fazli Ayob and Faris Ramli respectively added to the threat posed by the Young Lions.
But after good lead-up work on 84 minutes by El-Masri and Shahfiq, Toto arrived in the goalmouth to try and stab the ball home, only to stumble on the slippery surface and fail to get any useful touch.
A good cross from Camara, who was getting forward frequently in the latter stages, left Vanu disappointed with himself as he steered his effort narrowly wide.
Overall it was honours to the Young Lions with a 1-1 draw extending their recent good run that has included two good wins after a very slow start to the season.
Albirex have struggled to put opponents away recently, and they will be keen to make the most of their final game of the first half of the season, a tough match against Gombak United.
As Sugiyama observed in closing his post-match interview, “we have to stay positive and focused.”
Article taken from sleague.com, written by Paul Green
CYL Line up:
Syazwan Buhari, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Sirina Camara, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Fazli Ayob (Sherif El-Masri 66″), Hafiz Abu Sujad (C), Faris Ramli (Neil Vanu 80″), Aqhari Abdullah, Shahfiq Ghani (Shamil Sharif 92″), Jonathan Toto