Any doubts over whether the Lion City Sailors could pick up where they left off prior to the international break were empathically dispelled on Sunday night (June 19).
On their return to AIA Singapore Premier League (SPL) action after a month’s hiatus, the leaders cruised to a club-record seventh consecutive league win by beating Balestier Khalsa 6-1 at Toa Payoh Stadium.
Kim Do-hoon had admitted before the match that some tweaks could be made for battle at a venue where two points were dropped in their last visit, and it perhaps helped that the Sailors were given an early wake-up call when Daniel Goh smashed an opportunistic 30-yard effort off the bar after just three minutes.
But the Sailors’ response was swift and glorious. As a loose, bouncing ball came his way some 35 yards out from goal, Shahdan Sulaiman stunned everyone by meeting it first-time with a half-volley that swerved into the bottom left corner.
The midfield maestro would go on to curl another unstoppable 30-yard strike into the top right corner on 41 minutes as he put on a long-range shooting masterclass, and was unfortunate not to complete a hat-trick when a 35-yard volley came off the bar in the second half. “I think it was a good performance, not only from me, but from the whole team,” the 34-year-old modestly reflected. “Coming back from the break, it is a good win to restart our systems.”
Shahdan also played a key role in the Sailors’ second goal on 19 minutes by releasing Diego Lopes with a trademark through ball, allowing the Brazilian to set up Song Uiyoung for a tap-in. Captain Hariss Harun got the third in the 26th minute, controlling Pedro Henrique’s headed flick off Maxime Lestienne’s corner with his chest before firing in from close range to open his Sailors account.
If the hosts had no answer to Shahdan, they certainly did not have a handle on Lopes. The Sailors’ number 10 was constantly picking apart the Balestier defence, and was unfortunate to see a deft lob cleared off the line in the first half. A goal would have perfectly complemented his hat-trick of assists, with the latter two coming after the half-time break.
First, a perfectly-weighted pass sent substitute Gabriel Quak racing clear into the box on 74 minutes to slot in a left-footed effort for his 40th SPL goal. Seven minutes later, Lopes played a one-two with Kim Shin-wook before crossing for Faris Ramli to head in his first of the season barely two minutes after coming on. The goal made Faris the 11th different player to score for the Sailors – a league-best tally this year.
Kim himself saw a first-half header rattle the woodwork in an encounter where the margin of victory could have been larger, with Faris also firing over from a decent position, and Balestier goalkeeper Hairul Syirhan doing well to tip over a fierce strike from Lestienne.
At the other end, Hassan Sunny was rarely troubled, but would not have been pleased with the loss of a clean sheet – he was powerless to stop Goh’s well-struck penalty in the third minute of added time.
Indeed, such are the high standards of Coach Kim that he said: “I wouldn’t call it (the win) perfect (as) we conceded a goal. But, I give full credit to my boys because they were trying to stay focused to make a perfect game until the last moment, so full credit to them and congratulations to my players tonight. We will try our best to continue with the good momentum in the next game.”
The Korean knows that the Sailors have to keep up the hard work for their next match on Friday (24 June) against Albirex Niigata (S), who remain six points behind in second after crushing Hougang United 5-0 on Sunday.