Three days after battling back to hold Tampines Rovers 1-1 in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), the Lion City Sailors cruised to a much more straightforward 4-1 victory over the Young Lions at Bishan Stadium on Saturday (10 June) evening.
The victory cements the Sailors as one of three teams still in the hunt for the SPL title. They are now third in the nine-team SPL table with 30 points, three points behind league leaders Tampines. Second-placed Albirex are on the same tally, albeit with two games in hand over both the Stags and Sailors.
“Having in mind that we drew 1-1 with the Young Lions last time around, we came into this game without complacency. We just needed the three points, and this victory keeps us in the title race,” said Sailors Head Coach Risto Vidaković.
“It was a difficult game for us because we just played a few days ago against Tampines, and nobody likes to play almost immediately after just playing one game – you only have time to recover, and can’t really prepare – but it is what it is.”
Sailors captain Hariss Harun – who claimed the Man-of-the-Match award with a domineering display at the heart of defence – sang from the same hymn book.
“Our last game was just a few days ago, so it is not easy to come and play again. Fatigue and injuries were present in many of us, but I am proud of my teammates for pushing through.”
With a couple of key figures – including playmaker Diego Lopes and central defender Súper – absent due to injuries, Risto made three changes to his starting line-up, bringing in Lionel Tan in defence alongside fullback Christopher Van Huizen, with Hami Syahin coming back from suspension to slot back in midfield.
Clad in their white, blue and bold Home kit, the Sailors dominated much of the possession before taking a deserved lead in the 17th minute. A well-executed Maxime Lestienne corner kick caused mayhem in the Young Lions penalty box, leading to the unfortunate Kan Kobayashi putting the ball into his own goal.
Risto’s charges doubled the advantage in the 33rd minute, with Shawal Anuar slotting home a rebound after his initial shot pinged off the far post to continue his recent hot form in front of goal – that was his fourth goal in as many matches.
Just six minutes later, clever pressing from Maxime and Abdul Rasaq Akeem put Young Lions custodian Aizil Yazid under pressure in his own penalty box – with Rasaq pouncing to block the goalkeeper’s pass before providing an instinctive acrobatic finish to slam home the Sailors’ third.
This was Rasaq’s seventh goal in what is shaping up to be a breakout season for the 21-year-old who received two awards from the league organisers prior to kickoff on Saturday. He was named the SPL’s Young Player of the Month and also took the Goal of the Month gong for his volley, the game-winner in the Sailors 3-2 win over Albirex on 21 May.
The Sailors resumed the second half in exactly the same vein, with the Sailors’ other award recipient – SPL Player of the Month, Maxime – getting on the scoresheet.
In the 53rd minute, Adam Swandi dazzled down the right flank before squaring for Maxime, who stroked the ball into the top left-hand corner of the Young Lions goal for the Sailors’ fourth of the night.
In full control of proceedings, Risto threw on the likes of Haiqal Pashia, Rusyaidi Salime and Arshad Shamim in the latter stages of the second half – with the trio putting up decent cameos to show that they are worthy of more minutes under the belt.
The Young Lions did claw back a consolation goal in the 86th minute, courtesy of Jun Kobayashi. The Japanese defender volleyed home after the Sailors defence failed to deal with a Young Lions corner, in a slight disappointment to what was an ultimately successful night.
“It has been quite a while (seven matches) since we had a clean sheet, and it is a bit disappointing to concede a goal from a set piece. But we will regroup after the international break, and we will be better for the upcoming games,” said Hariss.
“This was not our best performance, but we did what we needed to do – get the three points.”
The Sailors will return to action after the international break with a home game against Hougang United on Sunday, 25 June.