For close to 70 minutes last evening (Nov 25), the Lion City Sailors battered the Geylang International goal at Our Tampines Hub to no avail.
In footballing parlance, it was starting to look like ‘one of those days’, where the Sailors were doing everything right, except putting the ball in the net.
Then, in the 71st minute, with Geylang committing numbers up top for a corner, the Sailors launched a devastating counter-attack – starting all the way from goalkeeper Hassan Sunny – which ended in Adam Swandi delivering a peach of a cross for Song Ui-Young to tap home from close range.
It was just rewards for the Sailors’ tenacity, who went on to seal the victory through Gabriel Quak’s superb solo goal in the 86th minute, before defender Kaishu Yamazaki put the icing on the cake in stoppage time with an outstanding long-range strike.
The Sailors may have ended up 3-0 winners on the night, but the scoreline belied just how difficult it was to break down a determined Geylang side.
Speaking after the game, Sailors head coach Aurelio Vidmar praised his players for their “persistence”, which he believes was vital in helping them eventually break the deadlock.
“It should have been over in the first-half, because we had two to three very good chances that we should have put away,” said Aurelio. “I was still very confident (that we would get the goal), although the longer it went, the harder it was getting.
“But I think we showed a lot of persistence tonight, and that was definitely the key. We were a little bit more dogged in making sure that we found the winner, so that was very pleasing for me.”
Sailors midfielder Song Ui-Young highlighted how important it was for the team to secure the victory over Geylang, especially with the season coming to an end.
The 27-year-old said: “We’re treating every single match like a final. We had to win today, and we did, so we’re really happy with the three points. But now, we’ll need to focus and prepare for the next game (against the Young Lions).
“Fortunately, the team is going into every game with plenty of confidence at the moment. We’ve got good guidance from Coach Aurelio, and all the players are on the same page with a good understanding with one another. That’s why we are able to work so well together on the pitch.”
Unfortunately, the Sailors’ win was marred by what appeared to be a recurrence of the hamstring injury that striker Stipe Plazibat picked up in the 3-1 win over Hougang United last week.
The Croatian hotshot came on as a substitute in the 73rd minute for Shahril Ishak, but had to be replaced barely five minutes later by captain Izzdin Shafiq.
Explaining the decision to play Stipe, Aurelio said: “Look, we took a little bit of a risk to try and give him a bit of game time. But obviously he’s still not quite ready, so that (injury) might put him back another four, five days, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Aurelio, however, is confident that the rest of the team will be able to cope in the absence of Stipe for the remaining three games of the season.
“We have plenty of players in the squad, and I think everyone is capable of playing in the first team. But of course, we can only choose 11 at the end of the day,” said Aurelio.
“We’ve won without Song before, we’ve won without Gabriel, and we won without Stipe tonight. And to be honest, we should have also beaten Albirex in the last game without him (Stipe).
“So, what we’re building here is a team that doesn’t just rely on the main guys, but is resilient across the board.”
The Sailors are set to play their remaining three games in the span of one week, starting with a clash against the Young Lions this Sunday (Nov 29), 5.30pm, at the Jurong West Stadium.
Aurelio, however, was coy when asked about whether he would rotate for the match against the Young Lions to keep his players fresh for the season run-in.
“It’s getting harder but as I said, we’re a fit team, and we recover really well,” said Aurelio. “The medical staff are doing an enormous job in getting the players ready for the following games, so we’ll just have to wait and see over the next couple of days what we’ll do (for the Young Lions game).”