Albirex Niigata (S) made it two wins in a row in the S.League on Friday evening after toiling to a 1-0 win over ten-man Balestier Khalsa at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The only goal of the game came in the 15th minute through a moment of brilliance from Shotaro Ihata, who pounced on a loose ball 25 yards out from goal and – on the turn – unleashed a first-time volley that looped over Zaiful Nizam and into the back of the net.
However, in what turned out to be an entertaining encounter, both sides had their fair share of chances to add to the scoreline but were just unable to find the killer touch in front of goal.
Robert Pericic was unlucky not to fire Balestier level in the 21st minute when he turned Shun Inaba before firing away a long-range shot that had Yosuke Nozawa beaten all ends up, only to see it come back off the bar.
A minute later, the woodwork came to the Tigers’ rescue when Atsushi Kawata latched onto Rion Taki’s cut-back and volleyed the ball into the post.
Pericic, who was shaping up as his side’s likeliest source for an equaliser, had another chance two minutes before the half-hour mark after being picked out by an incisive pass from Tarik Cmajcanin, but he could only curl a shot agonisingly wide of the mark.
And the Croat really should have made it 1-1 in the 48th minute after a lovely run and pass by Ignatius Ang carved out an opening for him, although he was again unable to get enough bend on his effort to place it back inside the far post.
It was then Albirex’s turn to threaten as they went in search for a second goal to kill off the contest; Taki racing through two minutes before the hour mark after a lovely over-the-top from Fumiya Kogure but being denied in a one-on-one situation by Zaiful.
The Tigers custodian had to be alert again in the 74th minute when he made a smart save down low to deny Kawata, who had broken free after racing onto a long ball and turning his opponent.
It looked like it was only a matter of time before the White Swans edged further ahead as Kogure fired away a 25-yard piledriver after being left in acres of space, but Zaiful produced a flying save to tip it to safety.
Nonetheless, it mattered little for Albirex as they ultimately held out for the three points, which was enough to tentatively take them up to second on the table.
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam, Yusiskandar Yusop (Jonathan Xu 67’), Hanafi Salleh, Emir Lotinac, Ho Wai Loon, Poh Yi Feng, Zulkiffli Hassim (Fadhil Noh 60’), Ignatius Ang (Ahmad Syahir 75’), Tarik Cmajcanin, Miroslav Kristic, Robert Pericic.
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa, Mikiya Yamada, Takahiro Saito, Kento Fujihara, Itsuki Yamada, Hikaru Mizuno, Shun Inaba, Fumiya Kogure, Atsushi Kawata, Rion Taki (Rui Kumada 72’), Shotaro Ihata (Kento Nagasaki 56’).