Albirex Niigata seal SPL title after beating Sailors 4-2
Albirex Niigata sealed the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title on Friday night after defeating closest challengers and last season's champions Lion City Sailors 4-2 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
A hat-trick by league top-scorer Kodai Tanaka, who grabbed his 29th, 30th and 31st goals, helped the Japanese side secure their fifth title in seven seasons, with two games to spare.
Sailors had trailed Albirex by four points heading into the match and needed at least a point to remain in title contention.
But national striker Ilhan Fandi got Albirex off to a perfect start in the fifth minute with a sweetly-struck volley from outside the box.
Kim Shin-wook equalised for the Sailors in the 16th minute but Ilhan then turned provider, assisting Tanaka in the 37th minute.
Sailors then spurned glorious chances to draw level a second time.
First, rampaging right-back Hafiz Nor blasted over from close range, before Maxime Lestienne was denied by a fine point-blank save by Takahiro Koga in the second half.
Tanaka then made sure of the win in the 78th minute, breaking through on goal and getting just enough on the ball to send it past Hassan Sunny and send it trickling into goal.
Sailors substitute Gabriel Quak converted a penalty in the 83rd minute to give his team a late lifeline, but Tanaka added gloss to the victory with a powerful finish in injury time.
The Sailors showed fire and intensity in their play which had been lacking in the three consecutive losses they suffered leading up to Friday night's game. Those defeats handed the initiative in the title race to Albirex.
But their profligacy in front of goal once again proved their undoing, with a combination of poor finishing or good goalkeeping by Albirex's Koga.
Sailors' only remaining hope for silverware this season is the Singapore Cup, which will take place from Oct 27 to Nov 6.
They will be desperate to win a trophy, ending the season empty-handed is simply unacceptable for a squad of their quality.