It has been close to three weeks since the Lion City Sailors’ last Singapore Premier League (SPL) match – a dramatic 1-1 draw with the Young Lions, who scored a penalty in the last minute of stoppage time for a share of the spoils.

The frustration from dropping points, especially in that manner, is still evident in Risto Vidaković’s voice when he talks about that game.

“We dropped two points against the Young Lions, that was a game that we should have won,” said the Sailors Head Coach. “If we had won, we’d be three points off the top of the SPL table right now.

“Overall, I think we lost too many points in the first round of the SPL, and that (Young Lions) match was just one instance in which I think we should have done better.

“But we cannot think about that game anymore. We must forget it and look forward to the next round of the SPL, because the title race is still open.”

Risto is not wrong – with 16 points after the first eight SPL games, the Sailors currently find themselves third in the table, five points behind league leaders and reigning champions Albirex Niigata (S).

And they are only just getting started.

“I’ve always said that this team needs time before we can see its full potential. It’s natural that we’ve not hit the heights in the first part of the season because there are many new components at the club,” mused the Serbian. 

“But I can see that the team is growing, it’s progressing well. There is a good atmosphere at the club, and everyone is working hard to improve, so I’m confident that the second round of the SPL will be better for us.

One of these “new components” is striker Bernie Ibini-Isei, who only signed for the Sailors barely a month ago.

Risto remained tight-lipped over whether the former A-League forward would feature in the Sailors’ next game – against Geylang International at Our Tampines Hub on Sunday – but revealed that the 1.87m forward will be ready to start if called upon.

“He (Bernie) is ready to play. In fact, he is ready to start against Geylang,” said Risto. “However, he is not at 100 percent yet – that will only come with more games, when he builds his confidence and scores goals. That’s when we’ll be able to see the best of him.

“But he is trying his best in every training session to reach the level we know he can. His will to get to where he needs to be is strong, and he’s determined to help the team for the remainder of the season.”

While the Sailors remain firmly in the chase for the SPL title, Risto insists that they are simply taking it game-by-game, starting with this weekend’s clash against the Eagles.

“We’re not thinking about the title for now. All we’re focused on is the next opponent, and the work that we have to do to beat them,” Risto said.

“Geylang are a very good team that plays good football. They are just three points behind us in the table, and they will be a stern test for us.

“Winning and losing is part of football, but the most important thing is that the players are giving their 100 percent in every game. I can assure the fans that our team will do just that and leave everything on the pitch to get the three points against Geylang.”