The Lion City Sailors will head into the upcoming international break boasting an eight-match unbeaten run, after they overcame the Young Lions 1-0 in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday evening (May 22).
But the in-form Sailors were made to work hard to beat Philippe Aw’s men who put up an organised and resolute display to keep their more illustrious opponents at bay.
Indeed, it took a sublime free-kick from set-piece specialist Shahdan Sulaiman in the 44th minute to breach the Young Lions defence.
Despite dominating possession against a Young Lions side that went down to 10 men after defender Syahrul Sazali had been sent off in the incident that led to Shadan’s free-kick, the Sailors were just unable to find a second goal.
Nonetheless, the solitary goal from Shahdan was all that was needed for the Sailors to secure the three points and leapfrog Albirex Niigata (S) to the top of the table, if only for a day. Albirex face Geylang International on Sunday (23 May).
While eyebrows were raised over the Sailors’ inability to beat the Young Lions – who are winless this season and rooted to the bottom of the SPL table – by a bigger margin, centre-back Amirul Adli insists there is nothing to be overly concerned about.
Reflecting on his team being unable to hit their usual attacking stride on the day, Adli said: “It was just one of those days where the team just found it hard to get the momentum to attack as fluidly as we usually do.
“But that’s football – there will be some days where things just don’t seem to go the way you want. The Young Lions were also well organised too, making life difficult for us.
“But we never gave up and kept working hard as a team to get the win. I’m really proud of the team’s mentality, because we kept to the plan and tried playing positively even though it was a difficult day. And ultimately, what matters the most is that we got the three points.”
While the Sailors did not find their usual fluency in attack, they remained solid at the back to keep out the Young Lions and claim their fourth clean sheet of the season.
This, says Adli, is down to the players in the team developing a better understanding with one another, having now played together for nearly half a season.
“It’s great to see that we defended very well, and stayed compact as a unit throughout the game,” Adli explained.
“I definitely feel that the team understands one another better as the season goes by, and the solid defensive performances we’ve shown in the past few games is due to the team defending as a unit.
“We have been working hard in training to be more organised from top to bottom, and thanks to that, it has made the job of the backline much easier.”
The team will now break for the upcoming internationals – in which eight Sailors, including Adli, will be involved in Singapore’s World Cup qualifying campaign – before regrouping in the middle of June for their Asian Football Confederation Cup (AFC Cup) group stage matches.
This means the Sailors’ next SPL match will take place more than a month later, on July 3, against reigning champions Albirex.
And Adli believes it was vital that the Sailors headed into the international break on a high.
“The win (against Young Lions) was very important as we know how consistent Albirex can be,” Adli declared. “Finishing positively before the internationals is exactly what we need, as it puts us in a great position when we face them after the break.”
Adli also expressed his appreciation for interim head coach Robin Chitrakar, who took over the reins of the team after Aurelio Vidmar left the club at the end of April.
Coach Robin, who has guided the Sailors to victory in all three of the matches he was in charge, will return to his primary role as the club’s Head of Youth Development once new head coach Kim Do-hoon links up with the team next month.
Said Adli: “It has definitely not been easy for coach Robin to take on this responsibility, but he has done a great job. He has guided the team to maximum points in these past three matches, and everyone appreciates the work he has done for the team.”