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 By Kenneth Tan

S.League must learn from Albirex Niigata (S) says Hougang boss Aw

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) would "fully deserve" a second successive S.League crown and have set standards for future Singapore sides to follow, according to Hougang United coach Philippe Aw.

The White Swans already have one hand on the trophy ahead of Thursday's match against Balestier Khalsa.

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With 53 points from 21 games, Kazuaki Yoshinaga's side lead Tampines Rovers by nine points and Home United by 10, although the chasing pair have one and two games in hand respectively.

If Home fail to beat Tampines in the big clash at Bishan Stadium on Monday, all Albirex will need to do is to defeat third-from-bottom Balestier at Toa Payoh Stadium to sew up the title mathematically.

With 55 goals scored and just 13 conceded, their goal difference of +42 is far superior to Home's +30 and Tampines on +18.

Aw want his fellow local sides to learn from another imminent Albirex triumph after seeing the Japanese outfit defeat his Hougang side 1-0 last Thursday.

"They have been consistent whole season," Aw said. "They're the most professional team and hardworking team in Singapore. They stay together and fight together.

"They fully deserve this, I want to send this message to the whole of Singapore, the local teams and players.

"We must follow example of these Albirex boys. They are truly professional, if we don't change to be like them, we'll forever be stuck here for the next 10 years talking about this."

Another key factor for Albirex's success is their incredible form at their Jurong East home ground. They're on a run of 27 straight home wins in all competitions, stretching back to Nov. 2015.

2017 Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League FULL-TIME at Jurong East Stadium - Albirex Niigata (S) 1-0 Hougang United (Ryota Nakai 80') #ALBHOU

A post shared by Official S.League Instagram (@sleagueofficial) on

Nonetheless, Hougang could have ended that streak at 26.

Instead of shutting up shop, the Cheetahs played a good passing game and should have gotten at least a point.

"I felt we came here with different formation and setup and coped with them well," 39-year-old Aw said. "Of course, that goal defensively we were not organised. We allowed one long ball to their No. 5 [Naofumi Tanaka]. The whole game we did well to cope with Albirex's typical attacks, but that one occasion we didn't and got punished from it.

"We must look at bigger picture, we have to persist in the long term, and if we were just to play long ball, we would surrender possession and just chase the ball for most of the time. We didn't come to sit back [against Albirex].

"It's difficult to play this way, sometimes the balls were up in the throats, even on the bench, we stuck to it. Sometimes we may get caught but we go back and learn, if we persist, after one, two, three seasons we will get it right."

Hougang are next in action on Tuesday when they travel to face bottom side Garena Young Lions.

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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