ALBIREX NIIGATA 2
(Shuhei Hotta 77, Kazuki Sakamoto 83)
TANJONG PAGAR 1
(Soichiro Tanaka 59-og)
If Albirex Niigata hope to mount a serious challenge for the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title this season, they must pray their striker Kazuki Sakamoto stays fit.
Although he was struggling with a knee injury, Sakamoto proved decisive coming off the bench as his team staged a come-from-behind win over Tanjong Pagar United at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
Tanjong Pagar took the lead in the 59th minute through Soichiro Tanaka's own-goal, prompting Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama to gamble with a half-fit Sakamoto.
Within moments of coming on in the 74th minute, the striker headed just wide.
Three minutes later, his teammate Shuhei Hotta headed home the equaliser with a pin-point corner from the excellent Kazuya Okazaki.
And seven minutes from time, Sakamoto delivered the goods by ghosting in behind the Tanjong Pagar defence to latch on to a headed flick-on, before volleying over Jaguars goalkeeper Aurelien Herisson.
The strike was the 23-year-old's fourth of the campaign, and he is well on his way to at least matching last season's 13-goal haul.
Described as a "pure striker" by former Albirex coach Koichi Sugiyama, Sakamoto isn't the quickest or tallest forward around, but has a nose for goals.
When asked how important the hitman is to his team, Okuyama smiled and said: "You saw for yourself tonight."
Okuyama was also pleased with the way his side looked in the attacking third.
Left-footed winger Okazaki came alive in the second half and, apart from delivering the cross for Albirex's equaliser, he also rocked the upright with a powerful 20-metre shot.
Hotta and makeshift striker Taiyo Nishida also missed good chances in the final 10 minutes.
Said Okuyama: "We didn't score enough goals in our first five matches. But today, in the sixth, we got two goals and our mobility was very good. We deserved the win."
Tanjong Pagar, meanwhile, crashed again after beating Courts Young Lions 3-2 in their last game.
After winning their opening match against Harimau Muda B, the Jaguars lost three straight games before beating the Young Lions.
But coach Patrick Vallee insists his side are doing well on the pitch, saying: "I'm happy with the performance of my team, but not the result.
"We can't just give up now, the season is long and I think we are on the right (path).
"I'm not scared because I know I have a good team and good players. We just have to work hard and keep working to win."
● ALBIREX: Kenjiro Ogino, Kento Fujihara, Shuhei Hotta, Soichiro Tanaka, Itsuki Yamada, Koki Akasaka, Kosuke Matsuda, Keisuke Ota (Hiroki Morisaki 84), Kazuya Okazaki, Kento Nagasaki (Kazuki Sakamoto 74), Taiyo Nishida
● TANJONG PAGAR: Aurelien Herisson, Masrezwan Masturi, Hafiz Osman, Anthony Aymard, Nor Azli Yusoff, Tengku Mushadad, Sazali Salleh, Firdaus Idros (Ruzaini Zainal 84), Sebastien Etiemble, Asraf Rashid (Lucas Jester 91), Monsef Zerka
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Kazuya Okazaki (Albirex)
LEADING SCORERS 6: Miljan Mrdakovic (Tampines), Miroslav Pejic (Warriors) 4: Kazuki Sakamoto (Albirex), Goran Ljubojevic (Balestier), Rodrigo Antonio Tosi (DPMM), Geison Moura (Hougang) 3: Fazrul Nawaz (Home), Monsef Zerka (Tanjong Pagar)
TODAY: Home v Balestier, Hougang v Tampines
TOMORROW: Brunei DPMM v Young Lions
This article was published on April 5 in The New Paper.
Get The New Paper for more stories.