Any fears the Lion City Sailors would be destabilised by the departure of former head coach Risto Vidaković were put firmly to bed on Sunday (25 June) evening, as the Bishan Stadium outfit put on an impressive display to record a 3-0 home win over Hougang United.
And it was Sailors midfielder Adam Swandi who made the difference on the night, as he scored twice and assisted another – vital contributions which ultimately led to him winning a deserved Man-of-the-Match award.
More importantly, it gave a much-needed confidence boost to the Sailors – who kept their first clean sheet in eight games – and helped to extend their unbeaten run in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) to nine games.
For Adam, however, this match-winning performance meant more than just the three points – after all, it signified the culmination of his journey to recover from a cruciate ligament injury that had kept him out of the game for months.
“The journey to recover from my injury, which took three to four months, was not easy,” Adam revealed. “But I had the proper support behind me – my family, friends, teammates, club, and the FAS (Football Association of Singapore). All of them played their part in helping me get back to where I can perform at my best again and help my team win.
“But definitely, the most crucial thing today was that we got the three points. It was also important that we kept a clean sheet as well, as that is something that we have lacked this year.”
While the spotlight may have shone brightest on Adam, the rest of the Sailors more than held their own, as the team exerted control over the visitors right from the get-go.
Indeed, the Sailors came close to taking the lead in the 16th minute when Diego Lopes turned and fired a curled shot at goal from distance that stung the palms of Hougang goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.
A few minutes later, Maxime Lestienne jumped highest to reach Hafiz Nor’s cross into the box, but his header crashed off the crossbar.
Given the trajectory of the game – which saw the Sailors dominate possession and play in their opponent’s half – it was no surprise when they finally broke the deadlock in the third minute of first-half added time.
Adam charged through the middle of the pitch and fizzed a pass to Abdul Rasaq, who turned his marker before lashing the ball into the back of the net.
Three minutes after the break, Adam opened his account for the season in style, rifling in an unstoppable shot from just outside the penalty box which nestled in the top corner of the net.
Adam got his second goal of the game 15 minutes from time, as his scuffed shot took an awkward bounce and looped over a wrongfooted Zaiful to quash all hopes of an unlikely Hougang comeback.
At the end of the 90-odd minutes, the Sailors had mustered 21 shots to Hougang’s one – a statistic that showcased just how dominant they were.
Nonetheless, Daan van Oudheusden – who is currently in interim charge of the Sailors alongside Pablo Muñiz – believes that his side still needs improvements in the final third.
“In general, we can improve in our possession and ball progression, but we definitely need to be better in the final third,” said Daan who admitted that the win had lifted a huge weight off the team’s shoulders, following what he acknowledged had been a “difficult” time.
“To be honest, this win feels like a relief. The departure of Risto was not a situation we were expecting, and we needed to adapt to it as a team,” Daan shared.
“So, I’m very proud of the boys that they were able to do so and carry our good momentum forward. It’s not been an easy period for us, but Pablo and I will just focus on winning every game that we’re in charge of, so that we remain in the title hunt.”
With the win, the Sailors have moved up to second in the SPL table on 33 points, three behind current league leaders Albirex Niigata (S). The Sailors will next take on Tanjong Pagar United at the Jurong East Stadium next Saturday (1 July).