Since returning to the league in 2020, Tanjong Pagar United have made Jurong East Stadium their home and co-share the venue with Albirex Niigata. Thus, the “Western Derby” was born. Following last season’s 4-4 thriller between both sides on the last day of the season, fans knew that it was going to be a cracker of a match. What a way to start the 2022 campaign.
However, question marks were raised when Tanjong Pagar United announced that they would only name five substitutes on their bench instead of a possible maximum of nine. Many fans would have probably wondered if the inability to field a complete bench would affect the Jaguars later on in the game.
Nevertheless, Reo Nisihiguchi silenced doubters 47 seconds after the referee blew the first whistle. Finding space down the left flank, he chested down a sublime cross by new signing Mirko Sugic and volleyed it into the back of the net. Reo scored the first SPL goal of the 2022 season, and what a sensational way to open your account.
Just when you thought Tanjong Pagar United would sit back to defend, they extended their lead a few minutes later. Once again, Sugic supplied Reo with another brilliant cross and the Japanese ace buried his shot into the back of the net against his former club. It was enough for Tanjong Pagar United as they emerged as 2-0 victors.
A Disjointed Albirex Niigata – Problematic Defence & A Lack of Chemistry?
On both accounts, the White Swans defence was at sixes and sevens and the Jaguars capitalized on the lack of defensive organization. Albirex tried to respond following the Tanjong Pagar United brace in the opening 10 minutes, and while they mounted wave after wave of attacks, they failed to convert any of their chances created. Tadanari Lee seemed a frustrated figure, with poor delivery attempts to the middle of the box. Nothing seemed to connect for Albirex as the White Swans either ballooned their long shots or shot straight at Zharfan Rohaizad, who was on top of his game.
To their credit, the Jaguars remained resolute in their quest to hold firm to their clean sheet and threw their bodies against the array of shots aimed at the Tanjong Pagar goalpost.
They needed something special to beat the Tanjong Pagar custodian but they struggled to produce a moment of brilliance and, consequently, failed to get on the scoresheet. In general, it was a bad game for Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s men, and the Japanese head coach needs to make some necessary refinements following his second consecutive loss.
A New Connection Moving Forward: Reo Nishguchi And Mirko Sugic
When the Jaguars decided against replacing Luiz Júnior with another foreign signing, certain fans would have doubted their ability to score goals. I think these fans may have forgotten a certain Japanese ace that helped shoulder the weight of the goalscoring responsibility last year.
Reo Nishiguchi had a stellar 2021 season and scored many crucial goals for Tanjong Pagar. Against his former employers in the season opener, he was ruthless upfront and like most world-class forwards, took his chances when they were presented to them. Reo was also picking out his teammates and creating opportunities for them.
As Noh Alam Shah mentioned previously, Mirko Sugic showed his incredible forward passing range this game and was able to pick out Reo in key moments. It would be interesting to see how Sugic connects with Khairul Amri and Khairul Nizam in the games to follow as well as Syukri Bashir, who is still easing into the pace of SPL football after a two-year absence due to National Service.
El Loco? Nah Mate, He’s The Gov’na!
Tanjong Pagar United must have known that they made a grave mistake in letting Blake go after the end of last season. He was a central figure in the Jaguars midfield in 2021 and his capacity to do the necessary dirty work as a defensive midfielder was largely unrivalled in the league. This defensive prowess coupled with his ability to immediately carry the ball forward upon successful interceptions made allowed the Jaguars to swiftly transition into counter-attacking movements. Many questioned if Tanjong Pagar United could effectively replace the Australian. Well, who better to replace Blake than Blake himself.
In this fixture, the Australian looked sharper, stronger and more authoritative in the middle of the park. Chasing loose balls, hollering instructions to his teammates, and constantly positioning himself to guard the backline, the midfield maestro snuffed out most attacks thrown his way. His presence certainly stabilized the Jaguars’ midfield and by staying back, he allowed fellow foreign player Mirko Sugic to bombard forward and make two sublime passes to Reo Nishiguchi who converted on both accounts.
With several key senior players missing from the lineup this time around, the Jaguars can take heart in pulling off this win with a bare-bones squad. This performance by the club has truly showcased that they are a force to be reckoned with. We saw glimpses of this towards the end of last season, and while pre-season results have suggested otherwise, the Jaguars pack a punch. If their core members of the squad remain fit, Tanjong Pagar United may very well be serious contenders for a continental spot.
On the other hand, it has been a less than ideal start for Yoshinaga and his Albirex Niigata side. Hopefully the White Swans figure things out soon, but if not, they may be out of the title picture entirely.
One thing is for certain though: the season has finally commenced.
Featured Image Credits: Tanjong Pagar United
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