Kawata's role key to Albirex-Tampines big match
Deployment of Albirex striker a hot topic as Stags look to bounce back
ALBIREX NIIGATA v
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Jurong East Stadium)
It was a move that initially had everyone scratching their heads, but even the biggest of doubters are now nodding in grudging admiration.
Last Friday, Albirex Niigata coach Naoki Naruo caused a huge surprise when he deployed star striker Atsushi Kawata as a right wing-back in their Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League clash against Home United.
Ninety minutes later, it looked to be one of the tactical masterstrokes of the season after Kawata (right) netted a hat-trick to inspire the White Swans to a 3-0 win at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Tonight, the Japanese club entertain star-studded Tampines Rovers in the biggest match of the season at their Jurong East Stadium.
And Naruo's charges are well aware the Stags will be eager to bounce back after Tuesday's 2-1 AFC Cup defeat to Philippines side Ceres La Salle.
Albirex and Tampines are joint-second on 14 points, two behind league leaders Hougang United, with Albirex having played a game less and Tampines holding two games in hand.
The winners tonight will go top and following his successful experiment last week, Naruo insists he will not be afraid to change things around in his bid to give his team the upper hand.
"Depending on the tactics, players can show their ability in different ways," he told The New Paper.
"We seem to find more space on the left and right, which is why I want Kawata to be both a creator and a finisher.
"Tampines are very strong and they haven't lost (in the league) yet, but, while it will be a difficult game, I believe in our football.
"I believe we, as a team, are more organised than Tampines but the key to winning the game will be to win each individual battle between the players."
Whatever new surprise Naruo may look to spring tonight, Tampines coach V Sundramoorthy will be ready.
Especially if Kawata lines up in a defensive role against Jermaine Pennant.
He told TNP: "We know how Albirex have had success with Kawata on the right and you have to give credit to the coach for that.
"You can make tactical plans but it's also important to be ready to adjust according to what's happening on the pitch.
"Over the years, Albirex have shown they have the right kind of attitude and play an attractive passing game, and we know it will be difficult.
"But the boys are motivated and they want to go out there and put on a good show."
The Stags suffered their first loss in all competitions when they fell to Ceres.
While extending their unbeaten run would not be a bad outcome, Sundram vowed his team will be going all out for the win.
"We are going there to get the three points because I believe if my boys turn it on, we can definitely win the game," said the former LionsXII coach.
"However, you cannot just assume you'll get the three points just because it looks that way on paper.
"We still have to turn up and play well against a good team, and hopefully things will go well for us."