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 By Kenneth Tan

Albirex strike late vs. Hougang in S.League for 27th straight home win

As Albirex Niigata pull away in the S.League, Jason Dasey and John Wilkinson evaluate the battle for second place.
Jason Dasey and John Wilkinson mull over the implications should the S.League take a one-year break in 2018.

Albirex Niigata (S) moved to within two victories of retaining their S.League crown after scoring a late winner to defeat Hougang United 1-0 at Jurong East Stadium on Thursday night.

Ryota Nakai's goal 10 minutes from time ensured they notched up their 27th straight win at home, extending the gap between them and nearest challengers Tampines Rovers to nine points.

Albirex were largely on top in the first 15 minutes, and enjoyed a flurry of corners, but did not put their chances away.

Tomoki Menda did connect well with Kento Nagasaki's inswinging corner on seven minutes, before his looping header was held by Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin.

The visitors' first chance came on 25 minutes as ex-Albirex favourite Fumiya Kogure nodded just wide from Fairoz Hasan's teasing, right-wing cross.

There was another chance five minutes before half-time for the Cheetahs, with Iqbal Hussain firing over from the edge of the box after Fabian Kwok's deflected shot fell into his path.

Albirex returned for the second half with more vigour and went close on two occasions. Nagasaki curled a free kick just wide from the edge of the box on 56 minutes, before Hiroyoshi Kamata fired off-target from Menda's right-wing cross three minutes later.

Led by another Albirex old boy Atsushi Shirota at the heart of defence, Hougang were holding the fort well, and could have taken a shock lead on 73 minutes.

Azhar Sairudin's first-time shot from Iqbal's low cross was denied by the legs of Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa, before the substitute got a second bite of the cherry from which he scuffed wide from Fairoz's pass.

Albirex should have scored two minutes later when hot shot Tsubasa Sano fired towards goal after rounding Ridhuan, but Hougang centre-back Delwinder Singh got back in time to hack off the line.

Hougang's resistance was finally broken in the 80th minute as they failed to deal with a lofted ball into their box, leading to Nakai nipping in at the back post to fire past a stranded Ridhuan.

The Cheetahs went close to finding the equaliser in the 88th minute, but Shirota was only able to head over from Iqbal's left-wing cross.

That meant Philippe Aw's side remained in sixth place, four points behind Warriors FC and Geylang International.

Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK), Tomoki Menda, Yasutaka Yanagi, Takuya Akiyama, Naofumi Tanaka, Shoichiro Sakamoto, Shuto Inaba (C), Hiroyoshi Kamata (Ryuya Motoda 74'), Kento Nagasaki, Ryota Nakai (Rui Kumada 90'), Tsubasa Sano

Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin (GK), Nazrul Nazari, Delwinder Singh, Atsushi Shirota, Faiz Salleh, Fabian Kwok (Nurhilmi Jasni 86'), Zulfahmi Arifin, Syahiran Miswan, Fairoz Hasan (Antoine Viterale 81'), Fumiya Kogure (C) (Azhar Sairudin 34'), Iqbal Hussain

Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT

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