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 By Kenneth Tan

Albirex Niigata (S) face Balestier, within reach of S.League defence

Defending champions Albirex Niigata (S) visit third-from-bottom Balestier Khalsa at Toa Payoh Stadium on Thursday night, knowing that they are one win away from effectively sealing the 2017 S.League title.

A victory over the Tigers would put the White Swans on 56 points with three games remaining. They have won 27 consecutive games in all competitions at their Jurong East home.

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Nearest challengers Tampines Rovers can only reach the same number of points if they win their final three games, but should still lose out due to their inferior goal difference -- +20 as compared to Albirex's +42.

Third-placed Home United can reach a maximum of 55 points, with four games left after losing 2-0 to Tampines at Bishan Stadium on Monday night.

So close to the finish line, Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga does not want his side to take their feet off the pedals.

The Japanese outfit are unbeaten in their last 17 games in all competitions since falling to a 2-1 league defeat away to Hougang United in early July.

"I want the players to repay the faith the fans have put in us the whole season," the 49-year-old said. "They have come a long way and improved a lot.

"It is because of their performances that they are in this good position to win the title. They just have to work hard for our remaining matches and show good form to finish the job. We do not care about other teams' results."

It will be a tricky visit to Toa Payoh Stadium, however, as the bumpy pitch is not conducive for Albirex's passing football.

Last season, the White Swans were held to a 1-1 S.League draw in April before just managing to nick it 1-0 in the second leg of their Singapore Cup semifinal tie at the same venue.

Balestier should also be raring to go for their final home game of 2017 after a disappointing campaign that will see them finish in the bottom three for a second successive season.

Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic says that defensive lapses have contributed to a disappointing season.

The Tigers are seventh on the table with 16 points, two ahead of Brunei DPMM, but having played one game more. They defeated Steve Kean's side 4-1 in Brunei on Oct. 16.

Coach Marko Kraljevic has emphasised on the need to cut out the defensive lapses that led to their 2-0 defeat against Home United at Jalan Besar Stadium last Friday.

"We should also have done better defensively but that's football, we move on and learn from this," said the German-Croatian, who is into his fourth season in charge of the club.

"We have room for improvement and we try to be better against Albirex. We have some players unavailable, but I will put out the best available lineup to compete."

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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