Albirex inspired by defeats
Albirex's recent losses spur them on even more to win the league title
ALBIREX NIIGATA v GARENA YOUNG LIONS
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Jurong East Stadium)
They are gunning for the Treble, and demonstrated their credentials with their superb form in the first two rounds of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season.
But league losses to Tampines Rovers and Brunei DPMM in their last two games have put Albirex Niigata under real pressure, with seven games to go to the finish line.
Their lead of seven points at the top of the table from less than two months ago has been cut to one, as Tampines continue to snap at their heels.
But the White Swans have the perfect chance to bounce back from last Friday's 2-1 defeat by DPMM, when they entertain bottom side Garena Young Lions at Jurong East Stadium tonight.
In their previous two face-to-face meetings this year, they hammered the Young Lions 6-0 and 3-0.
With Albirex set to play Tampines on the final day of the campaign in a potential title-decider, coach Naoki Naruo knows they can ill afford any further slip-ups.
"There are definitely lessons to be learnt from last week's defeat," he told The New Paper.
"Because of that loss, we virtually have no real advantage over Tampines now and the target has to be to win all our matches from now until the final game against them.
"We will have to produce a better performance if we want to get the three points against Young Lions."
Albirex enjoy a far-superior goal difference to the second-placed Stags (25 to 16), an advantage which will come in handy should the two teams find themselves level on points at the finish line.
While they can boost that further by going all out for a handsome win tonight, Naruo insisted there is only one primary objective on his mind.
The 41-year-old, who previously played in J.League 1 for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, said: "Of course, we want to score many goals if possible but the most important thing is to win.
"Our aim is to do our best and, most importantly, to put up a good performance."
The White Swans are no strangers to silverware, having already won The New Paper League Cup this season, as well as both the RHB Singapore Cup and League Cup in 2015.
By comparison, Tampines have not tasted success since 2013, despite their status as one of the S.League's traditional heavyweights.
But the Stags have a host of seasoned campaigners who have had experience with title run-ins, including Singapore internationals Fahrudin Mustafic, Ismadi Mukhtar, Izwan Mahbud and Jufri Taha, to name but a few.
Nonetheless, the Albirex supremo is confident his young team will prove their mettle in the final stretch.
"We not only feel pressure from our opponents, but we also feel it because we want to win," Naruo explained.
"What we need to do is focus solely on ourselves.
"I will continue to challenge the players to improve with each game as we want to overcome this pressure together."
BY THE numbers
Albirex were seven points ahead at the top of the table less than two months ago.
Now, Tampines Rovers have narrowed that to just one.