An off-colour, error-ridden display saw the Lion City Sailors go down 3-1 to Geylang International at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday (4 September) evening, in what was their first defeat under interim Head Coach Luka Lalić.
Despite taking an early lead through Maxime Lestienne, the champions allowed Geylang to net three in a remarkable turnaround as the Eagles saw out the result to maintain their impressive run of form – Noor Ali’s side have now won eight and lost just once out of their last 12 Singapore Premier League (SPL) matches.
“It wasn’t really about what Geylang were able to do, it’s about what we allowed them to do. We made several errors at the individual and team level, they utilised it perfectly for a couple of goals and that’s the reality,” lamented Luka.
“But credit goes to Geylang, they wanted it more than us today and they fully deserved this win against us.”
Having kept nine out of the 11 players that started the 9-4 victory over Hougang United a week ago – Diego Lopes and Adam Swandi were not fully fit – the Sailors got off to a smashing start and broke the deadlock after just eight minutes.
Released by an excellent Faris Ramli ball over the top, Kim Shin-wook had the presence of mind to tee Maxime up for an emphatic finish that gave the Belgian his 11th league goal of the season.
It looked like the Sailors were on their way to a fourth win in as many games under Luka, but Geylang showed spirit to draw level just four minutes later with Vincent Bezecourt sweeping home after some untidy defending in the box.
The Frenchman, who used to play for New York Red Bulls in USA’s Major League Soccer, repeated the trick in the 36th minute as he darted into the six-yard box to convert Ilhan Noor’s deflected cross to put the Eagles 2-1 up.
The visitors then scored a third on 43 minutes, with Hazzuwan Halim – who was on the pitch for just four minutes after replacing the injured Šime Žužul – benefitting from yet another deflected ball, this time from Bezecourt, to flick past a stranded Hassan Sunny in the Sailors goal.
The Sailors rallied in the second half, but there was no way past a resolute Geylang backline led by captain and goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.
The two best chances fell to Shin-wook, but he was first denied by a sprawling save in the 57th minute before Zaiful got the slightest of touches to tip his goal-bound header onto the bar on 83 minutes.
Eventually going down to a deserved fourth defeat of the season, the Sailors are now level on points with Albirex heading into the final five matches but remain top courtesy of a superior goal difference.
Luka is determined to take the lessons from this loss and backed his charges to bounce back as they visit Tampines Rovers at Our Tampines Hub next in the SPL this coming Saturday (10 September).
“We need to take a close look in the mirror, analyse what we did wrong in the game, and fix these issues as soon as possible. This result does us no favours in the title run-in and we’ve made things harder for ourselves.
“But we’re going to dig in, work harder and I’m confident these boys can get back to their usual selves in the next game,” he said.
“I hope our fans will continue to stand behind us and we’ll make sure we get things right in the coming weeks.”