Just two weeks ago at the Bishan Stadium, the Lion City Sailors were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) by a resolute Hougang United side.
But the Sailors made amends for that last evening (Nov 17), overcoming the Cheetahs 3-1 in a battling display at the Hougang Stadium.
Similar to the reverse fixture at Bishan, the Sailors were once again the dominant team in possession yesterday, while Hougang set themselves up in a deep block and looked to hit back on the break.
This time, though, we were able to take the lead early, with Gabriel Quak breaking the deadlock in the 12th minute with a sublime free-kick.
Speedy winger Hafiz Nor then doubled our lead in the 57th minute with his first goal of the season, before Shahdan Sulaiman put the result beyond any doubt four minutes from time with our third goal of the night.
Hougang scored a consolation in the third minute of added time through a Charlie Machell penalty, but that did little to mar an otherwise splendid performance and win for the Sailors.
Indeed, head coach Aurelio Vidmar was effusive in his praise for the players after the game, as he labelled the victory as one of the ‘most impressive’ since he took over the club earlier this year.
“I thought it was a super performance tonight, we showed a lot of toughness and character in difficult circumstances – I think this was one of our most impressive wins of the season,” gushed Aurelio.
“We didn’t do much differently from the previous game. We played very similar, as they did, but I think we executed our shots on target a lot better than we did previously. We’ve been building on that (aspect) the last couple of weeks.”
The only downside from last evening’s game was an injury to our in-form Croatian striker Stipe Plazibat, who had to come off the pitch in the 40th minute due to a hamstring problem.
While the extent of Stipe’s injury is still unknown, the prospect of losing him at this crucial stage of the season – with just five more SPL games to go – would be a huge blow.
Nonetheless, Aurelio is confident that the rest of his players, including a refreshed and recharged Shahril Ishak, has the ability to fill in capably for Stipe if needed.
“It’s going to be a loss if he (Stipe) doesn’t play,” Aurelio admitted. “But I think we showed tonight that we’ve got some flexibility in that (striker) position as well. We have Shahril back…Gabriel’s played there as well, we can put Adam or Hafiz there too, so we have a number of options.
“But let’s just wait and see because it’s still too early to say (how long Stipe could be out for). He’ll see a physio, get a scan and we’ll assess it from there.”
The Sailors’ win over Hougang means we have now won three consecutive SPL games, and are unbeaten in our last five overall. This good run of form has seen us jump up to third in the table, just three points behind joint-league leaders Albirex Niigata (S) and Tampines Rovers.
Up next for the Sailors will arguably be one of our toughest and most important matches of the season – a potential title-deciding clash against Albirex on Sunday (Nov 22), 5.30pm, at the Bishan Stadium.
And although Albirex were able to beat the Sailors 3-2 somewhat controversially the last time we met them at the Jurong East Stadium, Aurelio is confident that the momentum generated from the past few games will help see the team through this time around.
“Obviously, there’s a big game on Sunday…Albirex have been very consistent and very strong this year, it’s certainly a defining moment in the season for both clubs,” said Aurelio. “But the boys have been fantastic the last few weeks, and have really worked extremely hard to get the results that they have.
“I’m very happy with the three wins on the trot, so let’s see (what happens on Sunday). I can’t think too much ahead because we’re just coming off the win tonight, so we’ll just enjoy that now, because the players deserve that,” added Aurelio.
“We’ll take the next couple of days to recover and relax, and then get ourselves prepared for Albirex.”