They huffed and they puffed, and after 85 long minutes at Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Sunday (30 July) night, the Lion City Sailors finally broke through a resilient Hougang United defence to score what could well be a crucial goal in the race for the Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) title. 

The 1-0 win saw the Sailors Women reclaim top spot in the 10-team WPL standings with 22 points, two ahead of second-placed Albirex Niigata FC (S), with Hougang still very much in the race, in third spot with 18 points.

“We knew that they were going to play the long ball, but it was not easy to suddenly deal with it, so the team took the first half to get used to their style,” said Sailors Head Coach Yeong Sheau Shyan. “In the second half, it is when we really started to play our football, which was good to see.”

“I have to give credit to Hougang, they really pressed us, chased every ball and made things difficult for us. That goal from Miray (Altun) really saved us,” added the 44-year-old.

In the 86th minute, Miray took down Ernie Sulastri Sontaril’s diagonal ball with delicate finesse and displayed a composure beyond her 18 years of age to put the ball into the back of the net to score her third goal of the season.

That goal meant Miray is now the Sailors’ joint-second highest scorer this season along with Madison Telmer and Chloe Koh, behind Nur Izzati Rosni who has six to her name. 

The Sailors had several other opportunities to score much earlier in the game, but were thwarted by a resolute Cheetahs side.

The Sailors dominated possession early on, and within the first ten minutes, Miray peppered the Hougang penalty box with a couple of crosses that needed Hougang goalkeeper Azura Azlan to be alert.

In the 45th minute, Lila Tan weaved her way through the Hougang defence but her shot from just outside the penalty box went straight to Azura. 

Even in the execution of their defensive game plan, the Cheetahs fashioned goal-scoring opportunities too.

Former Sailor, Nicole Lim, found herself in a promising one-on-one situation with Sailors custodian Beatrice Tan, but the latter stood tall to save the shot and keep the scores level.

In the 74th minute, 14-year-old Cara Chang came on for Ardhra Arul Ganeswaran for her Sailors Women debut and it was a substitution that injected fresh energy into the team.

Cara is the seventh player from the Sailors’ Girls Academy to make the step up to play for the club in the WPL this season. 

“Our substitutes in the second half made a difference in terms of attacking and changing things up. Our build-up plays in the second half were good, and Cara’s aggressive pressing helped us a lot,” said Sheau Shyan.

Just two minutes after taking to the pitch, Cara smartly laid off the ball for Madelin Lock, who unleashed a powerful shot that narrowly missed the target.

And the Sailors fashioned more opportunities after Miray found the back of the net in the 86th minute.

Lila came close to doubling the lead for the Sailors in stoppage time, her shot from a tight angle going just wide.

“We still need to put in a lot of work on the training ground,” said Sheau Shyan. “We need to improve on our own style of football and also how we handle our opponents on the pitch.”

The Sailors Women next take on second-from-bottom Tiong Bahru on Saturday (5 August).