The Lion City Sailors slumped to a third straight Singapore Premier League (SPL) defeat after going down 5-3 to Balestier Khalsa at Toa Payoh Stadium on Sunday night (2 October).
With three games remaining, the reigning SPL champions find themselves four points behind league leaders Albirex Niigata (S), whom they face in a blockbuster at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday (7 October).
After a shaky start, Song Ui-young fired the Sailors ahead against the run of play with two goals in as many minutes on the half-hour mark.
But the game soon swung in favour of the Tigers. A brace from Ryoya Taniguchi pulled the Tigers level before Daniel Goh made it 3-2 with a close-range finish in the 50th minute.
The match was temporarily halted soon after due to a heavy downpour which affected visibility on the pitch, with the lightning warning coming on at Toa Payoh Stadium, extending the delay.
It resumed an hour and a half later, and so did Balestier’s scoring, with captain Shuhei Hoshino extending their advantage on 58 minutes on a rain-soaked pitch.
Hariss Harun then glanced home a Faris Ramli corner to reduce the deficit, with the Sailors needing Hassan Sunny to save a Hoshino penalty in the 68th minute to stay in the tie.
On the same evening Albirex were held 1-1 by Hougang United, the Sailors just could not produce the elusive equaliser with the sucker punch eventually coming 15 minutes from time.
Taniguchi earned his match ball after his effort deflected off a Sailors defender and past the wrongfooted Hassan in goal.
Things got from bad to worse for the visitors who were reduced to ten men late on. Hariss received his marching orders for tugging back Goh, but it mattered little as seventh-placed Balestier hung on for a memorable victory.
Interim Head Coach Luka Lalić did not mince his words after the match.
“It was an absolute nightmare and Balestier fully deserved their win tonight,” he said.
“This is a result of the combined mistakes we made throughout. Despite having worked on our defensive issues all week long, the same old mistakes repeated themselves and it is something we need to discuss when we get back to training.”
Despite seeing their title hopes hang by a thread, Luka is refusing to throw in the towel just yet.
“Our immediate focus is definitely to bring the team back up as the mood in the camp is not fantastic,” said the 35-year-old.
“Nothing is over yet until it’s mathematically confirmed. We will keep pushing as much as we can and hopefully get a result against Albirex.”