After putting up a creditable display in a 5-1 loss to English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in the Singapore Festival of Football’s Tiger Cup on Wednesday, the Lion City Sailors will return to Singapore Premier League (SPL) action next Monday (31 July) as they take on Balestier Khalsa at the Bishan Stadium. 

The Sailors are currently third in the nine-team Singapore Premier League (SPL) standings with 42 points, nine points ahead of the fourth-placed Tigers. 

Despite the gulf in points tally, midfielder M. Anumanthan called for laser-sharp focus, especially in matches like these in the business end of the season.

“Balestier is fast on the break and when we are attacking, they tend to leave three to four players – including Jumbo (Shuhei Hoshino) who can hold the ball well and Ryoya Taniguchi who can cause us problems – in front and if the ball gets to those guys, anything can happen,” warned the Singapore international, who skippered the Sailors in the 5-1 loss to Spurs.

The Tigers scored four goals against the Sailors the last time the two sides met in early June, in a match that was labelled the Sailors’ “worst performance of the season”. Trailing 5-2 with just 14 minutes left to play, Peter de Roo’s charges upped the tempo and launched an improbable comeback that fell just short. 

The final whistle was blown with the Sailors running out 5-4 winners, despite an error-strewn showing that could have seen things go terribly wrong. 

With only four games left to play in the SPL season, there can be no repeat. 

Every single match is like a final for the Sailors, who are eight points behind SPL league leaders Albirex Niigata (S), and two adrift of Tampines Rovers with a game in hand over the Stags. The top local side will earn the right to be Singapore’s representatives in 2024/25 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) regional competitions.

Anu is firm in his belief that there is everything still to play for. 

“We have to take it like we have four cup finals left to play, and we have to go out there each of those times and play like it is the last match of the season,” said the 29-year-old. “There is still a lot of work in front of us, but we are confident in the quality that we have and the work we have put in to say that we will be able to get the job done.” 

Sailors’ custodian Zharfan Rohaizad shares similar concerns raised by Anu, and also the same resolve that his team has what it takes to get across the line in what is their seventh and final match in a hectic July.

“If we are able to contain their key players, get goals, and kill the game as early as possible, then we won’t have much to worry about,” said the 26-year-old, who is one of two Sailors players alongside Maxime Lestienne to have started all 20 SPL matches this season.

“Ultimately we need to overcome our individual weaknesses and fight it out on the pitch. So if we can win our own battles, I’m sure that getting the results is in our hands.”

“There will be challenges but I think we are more than capable of getting what we want.”