The Lion City Sailors saw their perfect start to the 2024/2025 Singapore Premier League (SPL) campaign come to an end at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday (28 June) night, as they were held to a 1-1 draw by an impressively tenacious Geylang International side.

Indeed, it required a moment of magic from Maxime Lestienne to rescue a point for Aleksandar Ranković’s charges, who were far from their free-flowing best on the night.

The tone for the match was set as early as the 10th minute. The Sailors failed to clear their lines from a Geylang corner, leading to a gilt-edged opportunity for forward Tomoyuki Doi, who somehow managed to send the ball over the bar from point-blank range.

Barely three minutes later, the hosts found themselves ahead, with Vincent Bezecourt winning the ball in midfield before firing a long-range shot past the despairing dive of Sailors goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad. This marked the first time this season that the Sailors had trailed.

It was the wake-up call that the visitors – who had started the game sluggishly – needed, as they began to assert themselves on the game.

However, Mohd Noor Ali’s men put in a disciplined and hardworking shift to limit the gaps in their defence and midfield, making it difficult for the Sailors to carve out clear-cut opportunities.

At the other end of the pitch, Geylang continued to pose a threat on the counter, but they were unable to seriously test Zharfan in the Sailors’ goal.

By half-time, Geylang had outshot the Sailors eight to five – a clear indication that the Eagles had edged the first 45 minutes.

The Sailors, however, came out after the break looking intent on making amends for their first-half underperformance.

Unsurprisingly, it was Maxime who provided the spark for the Sailors, creating no less than three decent opportunities within the first five minutes of the restart, the closest of which came when Toni Datković headed the ball just wide from a set-piece routine.

Eventually, however, the Sailors’ pressure on Geylang paid off in the 57th minute. Bart Ramselaar delivered a low cross into the box from the left flank, finding an onrushing Maxime, who superbly placed a first-time shot into the bottom corner of the net for his fourth goal in as many games to draw the Sailors level.

Three minutes later, the Sailors came close to taking the lead for the first time in the game, but substitute Adam Swandi’s effort from Maxime’s cutback sailed just over the bar.

In the 65th minute, Geylang carved out their best opportunity of the second half, as Iqbal Hussain set Ryoya Taniguchi through on goal, but the Japanese was denied by a superb point-blank save by Zharfan.

The final quarter of the game saw a series of half-chances for both sides, with Bezecourt and Sailors striker Lennart Thy coming closest for their respective teams.

It took until the second minute of injury time for another clear-cut opportunity to present itself – this time, it was Sailors defender Bailey Wright who came close to scoring, as his header from Hafiz Nor’s cross drew a superb save from Geylang custodian Hairul Syirhan.

Ultimately, though, Ranko believes that a draw was a fair result on the night for both teams.

He said, “At the end of the day, I think a draw was justified. Both teams had chances to score. In the first half, Geylang had a little more initiative, but they didn’t really create much apart from a couple of set-pieces and their goal.

“In the second half, we were the better team, and the result could have been different if things had gone our way. But I think a point was the maximum we deserved to get.”

Ranko also admitted that there were aspects of his side’s performance that needed improving ahead of their next game against Tanjong Pagar United on 7 July.

“We played really poorly in the first half, especially in terms of our intensity. It was really surprising, and some of the players looked a little leggy, so that’s something that we’ll have to look into,” said Ranko. “Nonetheless, we knew we had to dig in during the second half, and that’s what we did. So, I’m happy overall that we managed to get a point.”

With the draw, both the Sailors and Geylang maintained their unbeaten records this season. The Sailors currently lead the SPL with 13 points, three ahead of Geylang and BG Tampines Rovers, who occupy second and third place in the table respectively.