Tsubasa Sano scored a hat trick to edge ahead of Home United's Stipe Plazibat in the race for the Golden Boot as Albirex Niigata (S) thrashed Geylang International 7-2 on Friday night to kick off their S.League trophy celebrations in fine style.
Sano moved to 26 goals to the season, one ahead of Plazibat. But the Croatian will have a chance to wrestle the crown back though, as Home United will face Tampines Rovers on Saturday night.
The White Swans had already sewn up the title two weeks ago, but went out with all guns blazing in their final match of the season. They lead 4-1 at half time before scoring another three in the second half to seal the resounding victory.
Kazuaki Yoshinaga's side got the rout underway in the 14th minute, with Player of the Year nominee Kento Nagasaki capitalising on a Noor Ariff mistake to whip home a belter from the edge of the box.
The lead was doubled on 29 minutes as Kamata went a solo run that took him past two defenders before firing a low shot in the area. Syazwan Buhari got a hand to it, but failed to keep it out.
Sano joined in the act three minutes later, expertly taking down Kamata's right-wing cross before lashing home from six yards out.
The duo combined to devastating effect again on 44 minutes. Sano ghosted in between Geylang centre-backs Yuki Ichikawa and Al-Qaasimy Rahman to head home Kamata's deep cross to make it 4-0.
Geylang pulled one back on the stroke of half-time. Shahfiq converted from the spot after Argentinean playmaker Ricardo Sendra was fell in the box.
However, the pendulum swung back Albirex's way 15 minutes into the second half. Sano completed his hat trick by heading home Naofumi Tanaka's left-wing cross for his 26th league goal of the season.
The best of the night came on 66 minutes, with Nagasaki capitalising on some slack Geylang defending to produce an audacious lob over Syazwan from just inside the area to make it 6-1.
Albirex grabbed their seventh in the 74th minute, with centre-back Yasutaka Yanagi heading home Nagasaki's pinpoint cross into the area.
Geylang pulled one back five minutes later with Yuki Ichikawa lashing home a half-volley past his old employers from close range, but it was too late to prevent a heavy defeat.
Nonetheless, Geylang still finished in the top four for the first time in 14 years, with nearest challengers Warriors FC managing only a 1-1 draw against Hougang United in a concurrent game.
Eagles coach Noor Ali had nothing but praise for the manner Albirex approached the game.
"They showed why they're the true champions, they're just too good," the 42-year-old said. "Even though they have already won the title, they still showed the desire and fighting spirit like they're still chasing for it.
"In the first half, we tried to sit back and conceded four. In the second half, we tried to attack them and conceded four. There's just no way to match them. It was the longest 90 minutes ever as a player or coach, I just wanted the final whistle to come."
Meanwhile, Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga wants his side to retain their focus with them just one game away from repeating last season's Quadruple feat.
The White Swans face Philippines' invitees Global-Cebu FC in the first-ever all-foreign Singapore Cup final next Saturday.
"I'm not happy that we conceded two goals through set plays and we need to work on them before we play the Cup final," the former Shimizu S-Pulse coach said. "Global's a disciplined and professional team, so the job is not done yet for us.
"I just want to take this opportunity to thank the S.League for the good season and most importantly the supporters because the league cannot go on without them."
Geylang International: Syazwan Buhari (GK), Yuki Ichikawa, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Daren Teh, Faritz Hameed, Nor Azli Yusoff (C), Noor Ariff (Gabriel Quak 46'), Ricardo Sendra, Safirul Sulaiman (Amy Recha 46'), Shahfiq Ghani (Ifwat Ismail 71'), Victor Coto
Albirex Niigata (S): Jumpei Yamada (GK), Tomoki Menda, Yasutaka Yanagi, Takuya Akiyama, Naofumi Tanaka, Hiroyoshi Kamata (Ryuya Motoda 72'), Shuto Inaba (C), Yuuki Yamanouchi, Kento Nagasaki (Rui Kumada 77'), Ryota Nakai, Tsubasa Sano