The Lion City Sailors made it two wins in two games under Head Coach Aleksandar Ranković, securing a 4-0 win over the Singapore Premier League’s (SPL) cellar dwellers Young Lions on Friday (7 July) night.

The Sailors dominated proceedings at the Jalan Besar Stadium, particularly in a frenetic second half that saw all four goals – three of them courtesy of Maxime Lestienne – hit the back of the Young Lions net, in a result that saw the Sailors maintain their foothold in the title race. 

The Sailors are second in the nine-team SPL table with 39 points, trailing league leaders Albirex Niigata (S), who have a game in hand, by a solitary point.

“I’m satisfied with the result,” said Ranko, who paid tribute to a resilient Young Lions side that made things difficult for the Sailors.

“In the first half, we were struggling – and big compliments to the opponents – I think they defended really well. We had to try and open up the game very fast, and we didn’t do that in the first half.” 

The opening 45 minutes saw a tightly contested affair, the home side repelling everything that came their way, with Adam Swandi and Diego Lopes failing to convert gilt-edged chances that were fashioned by the effervescent Maxime. 

The Sailors’ cause took a hit when forward Abdul Rasaq Akeem limped off in the 24th minute with what appeared to be a hamstring issue, and was replaced by the evergreen Shawal Anuar.

And it could have been worse. Ranko’s charges had custodian Zharfan Rohaizad to thank for keeping the scores level with a combination of good positioning and cat-like reflexes first to save a Harhys Stewart shot, then to turn Syahadat Masnawi’s rebound behind for a corner. 

The Sailors came out from the half-time break with renewed determination and stamped their authority on the game.

And it was Maxime who broke the deadlock in the 59th minute, slotting in the rebound after a Shawal shot was blocked. 

In the 68th minute, the Belgian wizard doubled the Sailors’ advantage, his crisp left-footed shot off a Shawal cutback sending the Sailors supporters wild.

Shawal put his own name on the scoresheet in the 86th minute, with Maxime turning provider this time. A teasing cross off Maxime’s left boot – the Belgian’s trademark that has become commonplace this season – swerved in from the right flank to find Shawal wide open right in front of goal. And the Singapore international did not disappoint. 

Maxime would get his hat-trick two minutes later, pouncing on miscommunication between Kan Kobayashi and Jun Kobayashi to intercept a loose pass and slot past the helpless Aizil Yazid in the Young Lions goal.

His three goals and an assist took Maxime’s to top of the SPL rankings in goals and assists, with 18 goals and 16 assists.

Maxime’s 18-goal haul is his best-ever goal tally in a season, beating his previous record of 17 goals with Club Brugge in the 2012/2013 season. Friday’s three-goal haul was also only his second career hat-trick – the first came in September 2012 in Club Brugge’s 4-0 win over Cercle Brugge.

“We changed the way we built up in the second half, pushed them further with our fullbacks, and pressed them higher when we lost the ball. So this was the biggest change, and the first goal really helped to set the momentum,” said Ranko after the match.

“I was more satisfied with the team’s performance in the second half, and we want to have more of these kinds of goals moving forward,” he said 

“For now, I’m happy to have the total squad and everybody fit and ready for the next game.”

The Sailors’ next SPL assignment comes on Tuesday (11 July), when they host Brunei DPMM at the Bishan Stadium.