On paper, last night’s 3-3 draw against fellow title contenders Tampines Rovers in the first match of the 2021 SIngapore Premier League (SPL) season was not a bad result for the Lion City Sailors.

However, the manner in which the draw was played out at the Jalan Besar Stadium would have left the Stags the happier of the two sides, and the Sailors rueing what might have been.

After all, the hosts found themselves in the driving seat for the majority of the game after taking an early two-goal lead through Song Ui-Young and Gabriel Quak.

Tampines defender Madhu Mohana pulled one back for his side in the 19th minute, before Gabriel restored the Sailors’ two-goal advantage 13 minutes after the break.

But two quick-fire goals from Tampines captain Yasir Hanapi midway through the second-half saw the visitors draw level. Both the Sailors and Tampines had golden opportunities late in the game to clinch all three points, but neither side was able to take them, and they ultimately had to settle for a point apiece.

While Gabriel acknowledged that Tampines deserved praise for fighting back to earn the draw, the 30-year-old admitted that it still felt like ‘two points dropped’ for the Sailors.

“It was very disappointing not to have gotten the three points to start the season,” said the reigning SPL Player of the Year.

“Credit to Tampines because it’s never easy to fight back from two goals down, but personally for us, I felt like it’s two points dropped because of the commanding position that we had found ourselves in.

“But both teams threw caution to the wind, and from a spectator standpoint, I think you can’t ask for a better game. Hopefully, this will excite fans and draw more interest to the league.”

When asked to pinpoint where he thought the Sailors got it wrong last night, Gabriel mused: “I felt at 3-1 up, our mistake was not slowing the game down. Instead, we tried to still go neck to neck with them, which ultimately played into their hands, since they were the ones who needed to chase the game.

“But our game has always been attacking based, so we weren’t going to sit back and park the bus. So overall, I think our performance can’t be faulted, especially when you consider that this is only the first game of the season and we’ve had only one pre-season friendly under our belt.”

On a personal level, however, Gabriel was pleased to have started this campaign where he left off last season – among the goals.

Gabriel, who recorded five goals and seven assists last season, said: “It definitely feels great for me to start the season with two goals. After last year’s achievement [of winning the Player of the Year award], I knew a lot was on my shoulders to deliver for the team.

“So, I’m just glad to open my account early in the season to get going, and also to repay the faith from the management. Nonetheless, it would have been much sweeter for me if we had also managed to get a win.”

The Sailors will next take on Tanjong Pagar United this Wednesday (March 17), 7.45pm, at the Jurong East Stadium.