S.League: Noel nets debut goal as Tampines toil to S.League victory
Tampines Rovers opened their 2015 S.League campaign with a hard-fought victory after beating Albirex Niigata (S) 1-0 at the Jurong East Stadium on Monday night.
An evenly-contested clash between two sides tipped to challenge for the title was decided in the 60th minute when an error of judgment from White Swans' goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa gifted striker Fabrice Noel a goal on his debut.
Things could have been much different had Albirex been able to convert a host of excellent chances, which came as early as the seventh minute when Rion Taki headed over from four yards after being picked out by Shotaro Ihata's deft cross.
Taki threatened again in the 26th minute when he intercepted a poor pass from Predrag Pocuca and charged straight at goal, only for his low drive to force goalkeeper Joey Sim into a smart save.
Tampines were enjoying their fair share of possession but they failed to carve out a real opportunity until two minutes after the half-hour mark. Noel found space outside the box and unleashed a powerful effort that Nozawa did brilliantly to tip over.
However, it was the White Swans who continued to look the likelier of the two sides to score. They should have broken the deadlock a minute before the break when Fumiya Kogure's corner was nodded back across the face of goal by Atsushi Kawata, but Taki somehow nodded over once more from close range.
And on the hour mark, they were made to pay for their profligacy. The visitors took the lead after Nozawa came off his line to claim a low cross but got tangled in a mix-up with Itsuki Yamada, allowing Noel to pounce on the loose ball and stab a shot into the unguarded net.
Having handed their opponents the opener, Albirex then mustered one final effort to grab an equaliser and twice came close.
Kawata, spotting Joey off his line in the 71st minute, sent a looping effort just over the bar, before the Tampines keeper did well to save a glancing header from Takahashi Saito at full stretch in the final minute, helping the visitors hold out for the victory.
Although he admitted that his charges had been given a stern test by their Japanese opponents, Stags' boss V Sundramoorthy admitted the most important thing was beginning the campaign in a positive fashion.
"We had a game plan for today and, of course, when you win, everyone will say the plan worked," he said.
"Overall, the most important thing was to get the three points to start the season.
"It was also good for some of the new boys to get their first game under their belt. Now that's out of the way, we can move on from here."
Meanwhile, Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama claimed his side only had themselves to blame for their failure to get anything out of the match.
"We created more chances than Tampines," he said. "But because of one mistake, we conceded.
"Because of that, I don't think we deserved to get even a point.
"Some of our players were a bit nervous because this is their first game. I think we need to be more aggressive in order for our style of play to work."
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK), Mikiya Yamada, Takahiro Saito, Kento Fujihara, Itsuki Yamada, Hikaru Mizuno, Fumiya Kogure (Kento Nagasaki 80'), Shun Inaba, Atsushi Kawata, Rion Taki, Shotaro Ihata (Rui Kumada 66').
Tampines Rovers: Joey Sim (GK), Jufri Taha, Eddy Viator, Predrag Pocuca, Shaiful Esah, Fahrudin Mustafic, Fabian Kwok, Firdaus Idros, Fabrice Noel (Noh Alam Shah 77'), Ismadi Mukhtar, Mateo Roskam.