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Footballing women, we want you!

The return of the Singapore Premier League has generated much excitement in the football fraternity here, and while we’re enjoying the quality football that coach Aurelio Vidmar and his charges are putting on show, the club is not resting on its laurels.

In preparation for the much-anticipated return of football beyond the SPL, the club is implementing a plan for our Women’s team, and we’d like you to come on board!

The club is moving to implement a broad plan to boost the level of our Women’s team, including revamping our game model and putting in place the Sailors’ style of football that we are already starting to be familiar with.

Open Trials

The Women’s team is opening our doors to women players across the country as we look to expand our playing roster to form two competitive squads of up to 25 players each.

Open trials for all interested female players born before January 2004 (aged 16 and above), including Permanent Residents and foreigners, will be held on 22nd November between 3pm – 4.45pm, at 8 Mattar Road.

Fitness levels, individual technical ability and tactical knowledge are some key aspects that coaches will look for in trialists.

Safety Measures at trials

Safety measures in accordance with the Football of Singapore (FAS) policies and Sport Singapore (SportSG) directives will be implemented at these trials, including strict adherence to separated grids on the pitch, keeping to groups of five, and no intermingling between groups.

These measures will also be implemented in the closed trials that the club will conduct for existing players as we look to put in place squads with an ideal player composition within the squads in the club.

Closed Selection for all current LCS women’s team players will be held on 15th November from 3pm – 4.30pm, at 8 Mattar Road.

To facilitate the strict organisation of what is an unusual trial modality, we request that all interested trialists fill up this form (https://forms.gle/r1aoqpTkACSPArYo9) to secure trial time slots as we seek to implement the required measures to keep Singapore safe.

Come and join the Sailors!

Trial details

  •         Open trials
  •         22nd November, 3pm – 4.45pm
  •         8 Mattar Road
  •         For women players born before January 2004 (aged 16 and above), including PRs and foreigners

 

  •         Closed selection
  •         15th November, 3pm – 4.30pm
  •         8 Mattar Road
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Sailors not getting carried away after huge win over Balestier

Many had expected the Lion City Sailors’ Singapore Premier League (SPL) clash against an in-form Balestier Khalsa side, who were unbeaten in their last five matches, to be a closely fought encounter.

The Sailors had other ideas, as they turned on the style at the Bishan Stadium yesterday evening (Nov 7) and romped to a convincing 7-1 victory over the Tigers.

Indeed, such was the Sailors’ dominance yesterday that the match was effectively over by half-time, with Aurelio Vidmar’s men holding a 5-0 lead at the break courtesy of a Stipe Plazibat hat-trick as well as goals from Song Ui-Young and Saifullah Akbar.

Defender Tajeli Salamat and substitute Adam Swandi completed the rout for the Sailors in the second half, with Balestier scoring their consolation goal through Croatian striker Kristijan Krajcek.

The result represents the biggest win in the SPL this season, and caps off a tiring but encouraging week for the Sailors who bagged seven points out of the nine points on offer.

While pleased with the victory and the performance that went along with it, Sailors midfielder and captain for the night, Shahdan Sulaiman, insists the team will not read too much into the scoreline as they keep their sights simply on winning the next game.

“This result definitely gives the team a huge confidence boost, but at the same time, we know we need to take it one game at a time,” said Shahdan, who ended the match with two assists.

“Due to the early goal we had today, the match opened up, played to our advantage, and we were clinical enough to turn our chances into goals. We are also getting more familiar with how coach (Aurelio) wants us to play, and hopefully we will keep improving from here on out.”

Coach Aurelio also agreed that it was important for the Sailors to take it “one match at a time”.

He explained: “I just focus on the process, and the process is of trying to play a particular brand of football. We’re trying to get everyone up to speed to do that, and I know that when that’s done well, then the results will come.

“I’m not too fussed with what’s happening right now. We’ve won, but generally I don’t look forward too much…we’ve only got a couple of rounds (this season), so we need to focus on one match at a time, and that’s what we’ve done over these (last) seven days.”

Ominously for the rest of the teams in the league, coach Aurelio believes that this is still not the best the Sailors are capable of playing.

“We’re getting better. As I said last week, we need to keep doing the things that we’re doing, and continue to do that better and for longer periods,” Aurelio explained. “And I think we saw that as well tonight, there was some great football played in the first-half, some great goals, and it’s just the start because I think we’ve still got so much upside.

“I think there’s still a lot of improvement to go, not just on the type of football that we play, but in terms of our physical conditioning, as well as tactically and technically. Whether we’re going to get that this year, I’m not sure, but we’re taking it step by step.”

One of the things that has set the Sailors apart this season is their strength in depth, and Aurelio praised his players for rising to the challenge whenever they were called upon.

“What’s been more pleasing is that when we’re missing players – like Song on Wednesday (Nov 4) – players come in and do a great job for us. Tonight, we lost Hassan (to a finger injury), but Rudy came in and did a magnificent job,”he said. 

“That’s a sign of a good team – a team that’s confident, a team that understands what’s happening, and with everyone believing in each other.”

With current league leaders Tampines Rovers dropping points following their 1-1 draw with Geylang International in Saturday’s (Nov 7) Eastern derby, the Sailors are now just five points behind the Stags at the halfway mark of the season.

While acknowledging that this was good news for the Sailors in their chase for the SPL title, Shahdan claims that the team are firmly focused on their own results.

“Of course, the leaders dropping points is good, not only for us but the rest of the league,” said the 32-year-old. “But we need to take a match at a time – first be consistent with our own results and not look too far ahead.”

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Hafiz Nor aims to rediscover best form as Sailors look to beat Balestier

Hafiz Nor enjoyed his most productive season in 2019, recording nine goals and two assists in all competitions with Home United. That form earned him a recall into the Singapore national team, and he went on to score a memorable winning goal in the Lions’ surprise 2-1 away win against Yemen last November.

Starting the new campaign with the Lion City Sailors, Hafiz was looking to carry on where he left off, but saw his momentum disrupted as the Singapore Premier League (SPL) was halted for nearly seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, the nippy winger has toiled hard in all six of the Sailors’ SPL games this season, and has impressed with his work rate and tireless running down the flanks.

The only thing missing from his game at the moment? Goals.

But the lack of output in the final third has done little to dampen Hafiz’s confidence, and he is determined to rediscover his best form sooner rather than later.

“I know I’ve not been very consistent in the past few games and there’s definitely room for improvement,” said Hafiz, who has made five starts and one substitute appearance for the Sailors this year.

“I have to work it out with the midfielders and be more successful in my penetrative runs to contribute more to the team.  But I’m not panicking because that’ll only affect my performances even more. I’m taking it one game at a time; I’ve faith that I will get momentum if I keep trying to make things happen.”

At 32 years of age, Hafiz is one of the most experienced Sailors in the squad alongside the likes of Shahril Ishak, Hassan Sunny and Shahdan Sulaiman. And he is relishing the role of playing mentor to the team’s young wingers in Haiqal Pashia and Arshad Shamim – because he believes they will both go on to carve out great footballing careers.

“They are players with great potential and it’s a pleasure for me to see them progressing well with each training session,” he said. “Haiqal is great with both feet and Arshad’s a bit similar to me with his speed.

“They just need more exposure at this level and I’m happy to share some bits of advice based on my experience for them to improve in certain areas. I’m sure in years to come, we’ll see them called up to the national team.”

So far, it has been a mixed bag of results for the Sailors since the league restarted three weeks ago, with two wins, one draw and one defeat under their belt. Aurelio Vidmar’s charges are now seven points adrift of pacesetters Tampines Rovers, but Hafiz is adamant that the title is still within their grasp.

“There’s still more than half of the season to go, and several points up for grabs,” said the veteran who is now into his 10th professional season after making his league bow with Tanjong Pagar United in 2011.

“Of course, it’s not easy because every team that plays against us treats it like a final. They really want to beat us because we’re one of the top teams in Singapore. But we just have to give our 100 percent, follow Coach Aurelio’s game plan, and I’m sure we’ll string together a good run of results to challenge for the title.”

Up next for the Sailors is a tricky game against a high-flying Balestier Khalsa side on Saturday evening (Nov 7), which sets up an interesting duel between Hafiz and his cousin Zaiful Nizam, Balestier’s goalkeeper and captain. Marko Kraljevic’s side are currently third in the table after achieving two straight wins since the restart.

Previously as Home United, the team won just one of their last seven encounters against Balestier in all competitions. That came in a 4-2 comeback win last May, in which Hafiz played an integral role with two goals and an assist.

“That was a really memorable game for us and for me personally,” he recalled. “If we play with that kind of never-say-die attitude, we will surely be able to beat them on Saturday.

“Balestier is a team which tends to be more on the aggressive side and that is perhaps why they’re pretty tough to beat. But Coach Aurelio has a game plan – we just have to go out there to execute it and get the three points to climb up the table.”

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Hougang draw frustrating, but Sailors not giving up on title: Aurelio

The Singapore Premier League’s (SPL) statistics told the whole story – 22 shots, six on target, but just a solitary goal to show for it.

And, at the end of the day, the Lion City Sailors were only able to claim one point against Hougang United on Wednesday evening (Nov 4), as the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw at the Bishan Stadium.

The Cheetahs, who sat deep and looked to hit the Sailors on the break, took the lead in the 34th minute through striker Shawal Anuar.

Despite dominating the visitors in almost every area of the pitch, the Sailors struggled to break down a resolute Hougang defence, and it took a spectacular Shahdan Sulaiman strike from nearly 30 metres out on the hour mark to draw the home side level.

While the Sailors threw everything at the Hougang goal in the last 30 minutes in search of a winner, they were unable to find a way past Cheetahs goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin. Faizal Roslan came the closest in the dying minutes of the game with an effort that was cleared off the line by Anders Aplin.

The result, coupled with league leaders Tampines Rovers’ 1-0 victory over the Young Lions, means the Sailors are now seven points behind the Stags with just eight more games to play in this truncated season.

Nonetheless, Sailors head coach Aurelio Vidmar still believes his team can win the SPL, and is determined to push Tampines all the way in the race for the title.

“It’s not over, if you’re talking about the title challenge,” Aurelio declared. “Yes, seven points seems like a lot, but we still have a lot of games coming. This is a very unusual league season, with only a couple of rounds, and we’ll be playing 10 games in about 34 or 35 days. It’s not an easy task, but so far I think we’re handling it quite well.”

Aurelio, however, acknowledged that it was a shame the Sailors were unable to capitalise on their dominance to secure all three points against Hougang, who had previously beaten Tampines 2-1 with a similarly defensive display.

“We controlled the game and had a ridiculous amount of time in the back third of the pitch,” Aurelio reflected. “But it’s just very hard to penetrate when you’re facing a wall of players, with 10 players behind the ball. We had quite a few good moments and opportunities, but we either didn’t take our chances or the ball didn’t fall our way.

“We probably could have taken a little bit more responsibility in terms of having a lot more shots at goals from outside the box, but they (Hougang) made it difficult for us overall. Sometimes you need that little bit of luck…we were the dominant team, but unfortunately didn’t get the full points today.”

Result aside, Aurelio insists he was pleased with how his team played in general, especially in the absence of Song Ui-Young, who was rested as a precautionary measure over a tight hamstring.

“In terms of positives, we played the type of game we wanted to play today,” said Aurelio. “We kept pushing and pressing and trying to unlock the door. The fact that the majority of our goals are coming in the second half is also a fantastic sign that we’re very fit, so when other teams are slowing down, we’re continually pushing even in the 90th minute.

“Of course, Song’s a loss, but we’ve got enough quality in the players sitting there waiting for an opportunity to perform. Shahdan came back in, Gabriel played a little bit differently tonight in his role (of attacking centre midfielder) and Saifullah was doing a good job for us as one of the young boys in the squad. So, we might be one player out, but we have enough quality players capable of coming in and doing just as good a job.”

The Sailors will next take on Balestier Khalsa at the Bishan Stadium this Saturday (Nov 7) at 5.30pm.

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Stipe vows to put sentiments aside as Sailors set course for victory over Hougang

Back in August, Croatian striker Stipe Plazibat was still a Hougang United player.

However, the fast-changing and unpredictable nature of football is such that barely two months later, the 31-year-old now finds himself a mainstay in the Lion City Sailors first-team, and is set to play against Hougang – instead of for them – this Wednesday evening (Nov 4).

But as far as Stipe is concerned, the Hougang chapter of his football career is firmly behind him, as he gears up for the Sailors’ crunch match against the Cheetahs.

“For sure, playing your former team is always a bit emotional. But as a professional player, I put those feelings aside because it’s now my job to give my best for my new team – just like how I gave my all when I was playing for Hougang,” said Stipe, who crossed the Hougang-Bishan divide for the second time back in September.

“I had a great time with Hougang, and they’ll always have a special place in my heart because they’re my first club in Singapore. Of course, it’ll be nice to see them (the former teammates and coaches) again. But now, my focus is to help the Sailors do well and achieve the ambitions that are set out for the club.”

This is not the first time that Stipe will be facing the Cheetahs. Back in 2017, when he was with Home United, he played five times against Hougang, and even scored in each of the first four matches.

The Croatian hotshot, however, believes his decent goalscoring record against Hougang is down to more than just having internal knowledge of his former teammates.

“Knowledge might be a factor, but I don’t really think that’s everything. I tend to play well in most matches, not just against Hougang, because I make sure I prepare properly for the game,” he shared.

“Apart from the video analysis done by the club, I will also personally watch videos of the defenders I’m coming up against. From there, I do a lot of mental preparations by visualising some situations that I might find myself in.”

Stipe had previously experienced a mixed reception from his former supporters in the Hougang HOOLS (Hougang’s unofficial supporters’ club) when he came up against the Cheetahs, but he believes it will be a different scenario this time round – not least because no fans are allowed in the stadium.

In addition, Stipe took the initiative to inform the HOOLS about his impending move to the Sailors before it was officially announced.

“I remember the reception for the first few matches was good, but that wasn’t really the case for the last couple of matches. But this time round, I believe there will only be positives because they understand a bit better about my move,” he said.

Stipe had a pleasant experience playing against a former club when he was playing in Japan’s J2 League in 2014. Just 19 days after leaving FC Gifu in the mid-season transfer window, Stipe went on to play them in the colours of V-Varen Nagasaki. While Stipe ended up on the losing side that day, the positive reception he received from the Gifu fans remains etched in his mind.

“The reception from the Gifu fans was fantastic. They really respected me and they showed their appreciation towards me for one more time during that game,” he recalled.

So far, it has been a solid start to Stipe’s Sailors career, with his brace in last week’s 5-0 win over Young Lions making it four goals in three matches. However, as someone who demands high standards from himself, the Spilt native is determined to do even better in the coming weeks.

“I’m happy with my contributions so far, but I’m very rarely satisfied with current numbers. I’m always looking to improve further and that’s just my nature,” he emphasised.

“To be honest, I’m still not at my best yet and I believe I can do even more in the upcoming matches.”

Going up against a Hougang side which has shored up their defence, and who understands perfectly well how Stipe plays, will not be easy. That is why Stipe believes the Sailors will have to ‘do everything’ in order to get the crucial three points as they seek to chase down league pacesetters Tampines Rovers in the title race.

“From what I saw from their last two matches (a 2-1 win over Tampines Rovers and a 0-0 draw against Tanjong Pagar United), they’ve been playing very defensively. So, we need to be very patient and disciplined in order to get the win,” he said.

“Hopefully we can improve from our last game, and it’s important that we score from our first real chance.”

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Slow start, but good result ahead of hectic month

The sluggish start to Sunday evening’s Singapore Premier League match against the Young Lions saw Aurelio Vidmar’s charges pepper the opposition goal with 11 shots, but still fail to find the back of the net.

But a goal within 30 seconds of the second half saw the Sailors romp to a 5-0 victory at the Bishan Stadium, in a result that has set the tone for what will be a sprint to end of the shortened SPL season.

“I was frustrated because I missed a chance in the first half, and we didn’t play our best football. But we came out of the locker room determined to make up for that terrible first half, and luckily, we scored very fast – that goal changed the momentum,” said frontman Stipe Plazibat.

It was the unfortunate Young Lions skipper Jacob Mahler who bundled a Gabriel Quak cut back into his own net in the 46th minute. But even if the excellent Mahler had not touched the ball, Stipe was lurking at the far post for what would have been an easy tap in.

Stipe did get on the score sheet later – twice. The first came in the 76th minute, an improvised volley to finish off a good cross from substitute Adam Swandi; and the second was a clinical penalty in the 82nd minute, after Adam was adjudged to have been fouled.

Stipe’s goals were sandwiched by a 70th minute Adam diving header and a 92nd minute Gabriel goal – both of which were created by the Croat.

“Gabriel deserved a goal in this match, and after I took the penalty, I told him that I wanted him to score. Passing him that ball was a good opportunity for me to pay him back for his assist for me in the 4-0 win over Geylang International,” said the 31-year-old Stipe.

It was this unity and ability to bounce back from a poor first half that brought a smile to Aurelio’s face – especially with the challenging month ahead of the Sailors.

“We couldn’t get on the pitch (the night before the Young Lions match) to train because the lightning alarm was on for several hours, maybe that had some sort of an effect in the first half. But we grew in the second half,” said Aurelio.

A Lightning Warning System is in force at sporting facilities across the country. Once activated, activity will only be allowed after it has been established that the threat of lightning activity has subsided.

“I was pleased with the result, 5-0 is a good win and we’ve got a difficult month coming up – nine games in 34 days – that’s going to be extremely difficult,” said the former Australia skipper.

The Sailors face Hougang United on Wednesday, and will play six more matches in November. They will end their SPL season in early December, after facing Tampines Rovers (2 Dec) and Balestier Khalsa (5 Dec).

The Sailors are now fifth in the eight-team standings, on seven points, five behind league leaders Tampines. Their next opponents, Hougang, are in the fourth spot with eight points.

Added Aurelio: “By the middle of November, I’m not going to be too fussed about how we’re doing things. It’s really about getting everyone fresh, and trying to get a result in every game now.”

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Fit-again Adam Swandi hungry for more as Sailors set sights on unbeaten Albirex

There were 62 minutes on the clock at the Bishan Stadium when the assistant referee held up the electronic board to signal the entry of jersey no. 27. And the long wait was finally over.

The Lion City Sailors’ 4-0 victory over Geylang International in the Singapore Premier League last weekend marked Adam Swandi’s successful return to competitive action, after 15 months away due to a serious knee ligament injury.

For the talented midfielder, there was no better feeling than being back on the pitch doing what he loves most, especially after what was a tough rehabilitation process.

“There were a lot of things going through my mind when I was preparing to come on. I was definitely worried, but the strongest feeling was the excitement to return to playing competitively,” said the 24-year-old, who thoroughly enjoyed his 30-minute run out.

“It went as well as I could have hoped: We dominated the game and managed to get all three points. It definitely felt like all the months in rehab paid off because it was such a long period, with disruptions to the process too, during the Circuit Breaker.”

Adam is now hell-bent on going a step further and secure a starting berth. But he is aware that the league’s requirement of at least three Under-23 players in the starting eleven, and the sheer number of quality attackers in the Sailors ranks mean he may have to bide his time.

“Of course, my main target this year is to go back to the levels I was at before, and I think I will definitely get my opportunity. That’s when I have to capitalize and show that I am worthy of a starting position, or at least be a regular sub for the club,” said the former FC Metz trainee.

“I know the U23 ruling will affect the decisions made by the coaches, but I’m determined to do my best in the hope that I’ll be given an important role in the team.”

So far Adam is enjoying life under the experienced Aurelio Vidmar, noting that the Australian is not just a ‘one-way’ coach.

“He’s someone who’s open to a lot of options and changes. He’s not the kind who says something and everyone has to just do it. To me, that’s a very good approach in modern football and we’re learning a lot from him every single day,” said Adam.

After the euphoria of a first win, the Sailors have to buckle down – they next face second-placed Albirex Niigata (S) in the SPL on Saturday evening.

The Japanese satellite club are one of the two remaining unbeaten sides – along with Brunei DPMM – and are the current league’s top scorers with 12 goals from four matches.

Adam, of course, knows the White Swans well, having spent a year with Albirex in 2018 where he was part of that all-conquering squad that went the entire season undefeated en route to clinching the league title. Albirex made a clean sweep of all domestic titles on offer, winning the Community Shield and the Singapore Cup.

“It was memorable not to lose a game all season, but it wasn’t as beautiful as it looked,” he reflected. “From the outside, it seems like everything is just very flowery. But there was huge pressure because all the players and staff had stated the goal was to win all games.

“I remember when we had our first draw of the season, it felt like a loss and felt like as if we had lost the title altogether.”

But the year provided win after win for Adam, including one on the personal front. His excellent performances won him the Young Player of the Year award.

Adam readily acknowledged that his spell with Albirex taught him huge lessons and also helped him mature as a player.

“The key takeaways for me was to take every training session as a match and to always fight to be the best player in the team in your position – that’s the mentality that Albirex instilled in me,” he said.

“Every year, the players that come into Albirex Singapore are very driven in their mindset because they know this is the stepping stone for them to achieve bigger things in their professional careers.”

The bulk of that 2018 Albirex squad has since either returned to Japan to play in the lower leagues or are plying their trade in other parts of the world. Only four from that team are still playing in Singapore.

Utility man Hiroyoshi Kamata is the only one still on the books of the White Swans and is now into his fifth season in Singapore. Centre-back Kaishu Yamazaki is now reunited with Adam at the Sailors, while forward Shuhei Hoshino is now with Balestier Khalsa.

“Hiro’s a super versatile player who can play anywhere. He’s physically small, but he makes up for it with his tireless runs and he’s just everywhere on the pitch. He is very unselfish and a brilliant team player,” analysed Adam.

“As for Kaishu, it feels good now that we’re in the same team again because that year we enjoyed a good connection. He was the left-sided centre back and I was playing left wing, so he played some great long balls to me,” Adam recalled.

“Although we haven’t played together for the Sailors yet, once we get the opportunity, I’m sure we’ll be able to show what we’re capable of.”

It looks like a tough match awaits the Sailors this Saturday, but Adam believes the presence of new Sailors signing Stipe Plazibat could tip the scales.

“Everyone in this league knows that Stipe is a natural finisher who simply knows how to put the ball into the back of the net,” said Adam.

“With him in the team, we have got every chance to win. Of course, we must also match Albirex’s hunger and it’s important we perform on the day.”

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‘Solid’ victory over Geylang a confidence booster for us: Aurelio

It was a very positive return to competitive football for the Lion City Sailors, as we beat Geylang International 4-0 at the Bishan Stadium in our first match of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) restart on Sunday evening.

Debutant Stipe Plazibat opened the scoring for us in the eighth minute, as he poked home a loose ball from close range after Geylang failed to clear Tajeli Salamat’s header from a corner.

The Eagles were then reduced to 10 men at the stroke of half-time, after our young midfielder Arshad Shamim was brought down in the box by Geylang goalkeeper Zainol Gulam, who received his marching orders for the challenge.

Our midfield maestro Song Ui-Young stepped up and confidently dispatched the resulting penalty to give us a two goal lead, and we never looked back from there.

Stipe then crowned his dream debut with his second goal of the night in the 84th minute, as he coolly side-footed Gabriel Quak’s unselfish cutback into a near-unguarded net, before veteran Shahril Ishak put the icing on the cake for the Sailors in the 90th minute with a simple tap-in for our fourth goal.

Naturally, Sailors head coach Aurelio Vidmar was delighted with how his charges performed against a robust and determined Geylang side, and believes this victory – our first in the SPL – will give everyone a huge lift for the remainder of the season.

“I’m of course very happy with the win and the clean sheet, and I think that this result will give everyone a lot of confidence as we go through the season,” said Aurelio.

“I think even after seven months without competitive football (due to Covid-19), we’re in reasonably good physical condition. And we showed that here at the Bishan Stadium, even though they (Geylang) had 10 men.

“We were able to control (the game) and make some good actions going forward, and I’m very pleased with the way we stayed disciplined throughout the 90 minutes. Being able to score four goals was also very positive for the group.”

Aurelio also had words of praise for new signing Stipe, who currently leads the SPL goalscoring chart with seven goals.

“Scoring two goals on his debut was fantastic,” Aurelio said of Stipe. “We all know what he’s capable of. He’s a top goalscorer, and he continued to prove that again tonight. But he also worked hard to make good chances for himself and for others, so I’m very pleased with his overall performance.”

Speaking about his debut, Stipe expressed his joy at having gotten his Sailors career off to a winning start. The 31-year-old said: “It feels great to get the victory, especially after we’ve waited so long to play again. I’m really glad that we started with a strong performance, and of course, scoring is just the cherry on top.

“We played very well, although we still have room for improvement in certain areas. But, for a first match after so long, I am satisfied with how we reacted. It was very important that we got the win, because we have high hopes for this season and it was crucial to take all three points.”

Apart from Stipe, young playmaker Saifullah Akbar also made his debut for the Sailors on Sunday, and Aurelio claims the 21-year-old should be happy with his performance.

“Saifullah was making his first start for us, and I thought he was very serviceable throughout the time he was on the pitch,” Aurelio explained. “I can say that both he and Arshad performed well and gave us a lot of good moments, especially in the first-half.”

Despite the convincing victory over Geylang, Aurelio knows that there is still work to be done in order for us to achieve our goals this season. But the Australian tactician is confident that we will only get better with more matches under our belt.

“I thought some of our movement up front was very good, but we just kind of overcooked the ball on a couple of occasions when we got into really good areas,” Aurelio reflected.

“The weight of passing was a bit sloppy when we had good opportunities to get behind the (Geylang) defence. But these are the things that will happen after seven months of no football. We were a little bit rusty, and we’ve probably seen that from the first round from all the teams that have played, but that will improve over the next three weeks after playing more matches.”

The Sailors move up to sixth in the table, and will next play Albirex Niigata (S) this Saturday (Oct 24), 5.30pm, at the Jurong East Stadium.

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All eyes on new signing Stipe Plazibat as Sailors gun for first SPL win against Geylang

His surprise transfer to the Lion City Sailors grabbed all the eyeballs and was the talk of the footballing community in Singapore.

Now, Stipe Plazibat is set to make his much-anticipated debut for the Sailors in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), as they host Geylang International at Bishan Stadium on Sunday evening.

Having been with the team since September 1, the time is ripe for the 31-year-old hotshot to prove his mettle and carry on where he left off.

The Croatian began the year in fine fashion, scoring nine goals in six games across two competitions for his previous employers Hougang United – including the five that made him the league’s top scorer before it was halted in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And our head coach Aurelio Vidmar has no doubt that Stipe will be a hit for the Sailors after seeing his performances in training.

“He has fit in seamlessly since joining us six weeks ago, so much so that it feels like he has been here for a long time,” said former Australian international Aurelio. “He’s been a positive influence to everyone and there haven’t been any issues between the two of us.

“He has a lot of experience and is a very good goal scorer. And he has been at this club before (when it was previously known as Home United). When we knew he was available, there was absolutely no question we had to bring him in. He’s the type of player who I know will turn it on when it’s game day, and I expect him to continue on this way.”

With the unexpected long break providing extra time for coach Aurelio to impose his philosophy on the team, he believes they are now better equipped for the challenges ahead than they were at the beginning of the season.

“I know a bit more about the team…the players also understand more about me and the playing style I want them to have. Now, there’s a better understanding of what we’re trying to do,” noted the 53-year-old, who was only appointed as our head coach last December.

“But obviously the dynamics of training amongst yourselves and actually up against real opponents is completely different. So, we have to go out there and try to perform.”

With the league’s schedule now reduced to two rounds being played over just nine weeks, it is imperative for the Sailors to hit the ground running once the SPL restarts, in order to make up for the slow start to the season which saw them attaining just one point from two matches.

However, coach Aurelio is keen to exercise caution when necessary.

“Yes, any slip-ups can cost you and we need to start strongly. But we want to be still firing in Round 24, and not just be firing in Round Five then slowing down in the next four or five rounds,” he emphasised. “That’s my approach, and I’m confident that if we are focused and committed in what we’re doing, we’ll do very well.”

The build-up to Sunday’s game against Geylang is a vastly different one, with the technical team not being able to scout and analyse their opponents as they would have usually done in the past. As such, coach Aurelio believes the key to success comes internally.

“It’s been seven months since everyone last played. While there might be some similarities with what we know about the opposition previously, it’s still a little bit of an unknown,” he explained.

“We can prepare for them as much as we can, but our focus has certainly been on what we need to do as a team.”

Apart from the arrival of Stipe, the Sailors are further boosted by the return of Adam Swandi for the remaining games. The skilful attacker is now fit for selection again after recovering from a serious knee ligament injury attained back in July 2019, with coach Aurelio noting that he ‘looks very, very sharp’ in training.

They will, however, not be able to call upon the services of Zulqarnaen Suzliman due to his National Service commitments, while Ho Wai Loon, Iqram Rifqi and Amiruldin Asraf are all currently still out injured. As such, three Under-21 players in the form of Danish Iftiqar, Anaqi Ismit and Aizal Murhamdani have made the step up to be included in the fold.

With matches to be played behind closed-doors for the rest of the year, the presence of the Sailors faithful will be sorely missed, but coach Aurelio has vowed that his team will put on a show for the fans watching the game on television and the various streaming platforms.

“We’re very sad not to be able to see the fans because they’re all so important to us, but it’s difficult for them to come to the stadium at this point of time,” he commented.

“On behalf of the staff and all the players, I just want to say that we’re going out to every game to give our absolute 100 per cent. We’re going to leave every ounce of sweat, blood and tears on the pitch to give us a better chance to be successful.

“And certainly, we hope to be able to see the fans and to allow them to get up close to the players in the near future.”

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We are ready to do better: Hassan

With one draw and one loss, it would be fair to say that the Lion City Sailors did not enjoy the best of starts to this season’s Singapore Premier League (SPL).

Before the Sailors could bounce back, the SPL was suspended, with no football action for close to seven months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now the SPL is set for a restart. And so are the Sailors, according to goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.

With the Sailors set to play their first match of the league restart on Oct 18 against Geylang International, the 36-year-old shot-stopper claims that everyone in the team is ready to start afresh after their disappointing opening two games.

“Everyone of us have been waiting for months for the league to restart, and now that it’s here, we are all excited and cannot wait to get back on the pitch to play competitive football matches again,” said Hassan.

“Unfortunately, the team didn’t get off to the best of starts to the season. But we have been working hard throughout the past few months to ensure that we are in the best of shape for the league restart because we are all determined to do better.”

Hassan added that he has seen an “improvement” in the cohesiveness of the team, with the players now more attuned to head coach Aurelio Vidmar’s footballing philosophy and tactics.

“I’ve definitely seen our team cohesiveness improve since the start of the season,” said Hassan. “All of us are focused on getting our season back on track, and I’m happy to say that preparation has been good so far.

“The boys have all been putting in their 100 per cent effort during training, and we are all feeling positive ahead of the league restart. I have full confidence in the team and the coaches to achieve our goals this season.”

One of the reasons for Hassan’s confidence stems from the Sailors’ capture of hotshot striker Stipe Plazibat, who joined the club at the start of last month.

When asked whether Plazibat – who has to date recorded an incredible 54 goals in 70 SPL matches – has managed to get the better of him in goal yet, Hassan laughed, and revealed that both he and the Croatian striker would always challenge each other during training.

“I always compete with him (Plazibat) during training!” said Hassan. “He will try to score and of course, I will try to stop him from doing so. We always challenge each other to do better, and this competitiveness has helped both of us improve as players.

“But so far, he’s adapted very well with the group because many of us already know him. He’s no stranger to the league, and he will definitely be a huge asset for us this season.”

Nonetheless, while Hassan is brimming with confidence for the restart of the league, he is aware that their upcoming game against Geylang – with a record of two wins and a loss so far – will be anything but a walk in the park.

He explained: “We all know that Geylang are a very difficult team to beat. They have players who will fight till the final whistle. All of them are willing to put their bodies on the line, so we will have to be at our best to beat them. But I’m sure that if we perform to how I know we can, we can get the victory.”