After a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Geylang International the last time out, the Lion City Sailors will be looking to rebound when they go on the road to face another Eastern side, Tampines Rovers, at Our Tampines Hub (OTH) on Saturday (10 September) evening. 

Spearheaded by 28-goal league-leading scorer Boris Kopitović, third-placed Stags have been in good form of late – winning five out of their last six matches. Acutely aware of the challenge against Gavin Lee’s men, goalkeeper Hassan Sunny has urged his side to put in a much-improved display to return to winning ways. 

“Tampines are obviously a quality team and they’ll be playing with the backing of their fans at OTH. So it’ll be tough for sure, but we have quality players in our ranks especially in our attacking front who can hurt anyone. 

“First things first, we have to play as a unit and everyone has to turn up in order for us to get the victory,” said the 38-year-old. 

Not one to mince his words, Hassan acknowledged the team didn’t “turn up” against the Eagles last Sunday as they fell to their first defeat in four matches under interim Head Coach Luka Lalić. 

“We have to admit Geylang wanted it more than us and they fully deserved the win. We were punished rightly for our poor performance. Having said that, we’ve been hard at work this week trying to get everything right for this upcoming match.”

The Sailors can take confidence from winning all three encounters against Tampines in 2022, but will have to cope without the suspended duo of Hariss Harun and Hafiz Nor, while Brazilian centre-back Pedro Henrique is unlikely to be fit due to injury.

Hassan believes this is where the squad depth and players’ versatility comes in to play a crucial part for the team. 

“This is not something new – we have had players out before and had to rely on some of us playing in unaccustomed positions. So we definitely have the depth as well as the flexibility to cope,” said the veteran custodian. 

The title race is now finely poised going into the final five matches of the season, with the Sailors level on 51 points with Albirex Niigata (S) but holding the advantage courtesy of a better goal difference by +10. 

In a situation not dissimilar to last season when the Sailors held their nerve to win their first-ever SPL title on the final day, Hassan is calling for calm heads to see the team through and eventually retain their domestic crown. 

“Last year we also had players missing and a change of coach, but we pulled through so I don’t see why it won’t happen this year. Yes, there is pressure for sure, but only with pressure will you be able to see the difference between good and average players,” said Hassan, who was also part of the Warriors FC side that clinched the title on the final day of the season back in 2014. 

“These last five games won’t be easy and even Young Lions will try to make it difficult for us in our following match. But we’ve been in this situation before so it’s not new to us. 

“The coaches and backroom staff have done their part to prepare us, now it’s up to us players to perform on the pitch and do justice to their efforts.”