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.