The Lion City Sailors will head into the upcoming international break in good cheer, following a 3-0 win over Balestier Khalsa at the Bishan Stadium on Saturday (18 March) evening.
The three points earned – their fourth victory in five games – means that the Sailors have now made their best-ever start to a Singapore Premier League (SPL) season. Their previous best points tally after five games was 10, with three wins, a draw and a loss in the 2022 season.
More importantly, however, the result propelled Risto Vidaković’s side to the top of the nine-team SPL standings. They could remain league leaders heading into the international break should Albirex Niigata (S) and Tampines Rovers play out a draw in their game on Sunday (19 March), although a victory for either team would see the Sailors bumped down to second.
Nonetheless, the ruthless manner in which the Sailors dispatched the Tigers was a reminder to the rest of the league of not only the quality they have in their ranks, but of the team’s determination to regain the SPL title.
“The players gave everything today, their 100%, and I think that’s the most important aspect of the match. I can’t fault them for their effort,” said Risto. “ We suffered a bit in the first half, but in the second half we controlled the game a bit more and got the win. The players who were not called up for international duty can now take the time during the upcoming break to rest and recover, and get themselves ready for our next game.”
While the Sailors put in an accomplished performance against Peter de Roo’s men, their opening goal in the 19th minute perhaps owed more to luck than it did to skill, as Maxime Lestienne’s scuffed shot off Christopher van Huizen’s cross bounced off the turf and looped over a wrongfooted Hairul Syirhan in the Balestier goal.
There was, however, nothing fortuitous about the Sailors’ second goal in the 48th minute. Maxime played a beautiful one-two with Diego Lopes down the left, before sending an inch-perfect low cross for Abdul Rasaq – making his first start of the season – to tap home into an unguarded net.
Maxime put the icing on the cake for the home side in stoppage time, confidently dispatching a penalty which substitute Shawal Anuar had earned after being fouled by Balestier’s Emmeric Ong in the box – capping off a virtuoso performance with two goals and an assist.
With the Sailors scoring three goals and keeping a clean sheet in back-to-back games – they had beaten Geylang International by the same scoreline in their previous game – goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad believes momentum is on their side.
Man-of-the-Match Zharfan, who played a crucial role in the win over Balestier with a number of key saves, said: “I’m happy with my performance, but more importantly, I’m happy with the team’s performance.
“From the start, we tried to play out from the back and it worked out for us. Winning was the only thing that was on our minds ahead of the international break.
“We are going to face Tampines next, so having these three points gives us momentum, and we’re all looking forward to that big game.”
The Sailors’ highly-anticipated clash with fellow title challengers Tampines will take place on Friday, 31 March at Our Tampines Hub.