In a scintillating encounter at the Jurong East Stadium on Saturday (1 July) evening, Lion City Sailors supporters were treated to a thrilling exhibition of flair and finishing. The Sailors overwhelmed Tanjong Pagar United with their attacking prowess to secure a 7-1 victory in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) – their biggest win margin this season. 

The resounding victory marks the start of the Aleksandar Ranković era, with the tactical cohesion and attacking prowess on show suggesting that the wheels are in motion on the evolution and implementation of the Sailors’ football philosophy. 

The win also meant the Sailors won three successive matches for the first time in 2023. 

“I’m pleased with how we played, especially in the second half, and it is a deserving three points for us. We played exactly how we trained, and the boys stuck to the game plan,” said the former ADO Den Haag head coach.

“I’m not sure if there is any coach in the world who would be 100 percent satisfied and I’m one of them. There are still many things to improve on, but there are several good things that we portrayed today – especially that the boys delivered on the game plan that we prepared – and I’m happy,” said the 44-year-old.

The match commenced with the Sailors dominating possession, even coming close to scoring in the very first minute when Abdul Rasaq Akeem won the ball from the Jaguars’ defence and passed it to Maxime Lestienne, whose placed shot went just inches wide.

Seven minutes later, combative midfielder M Anumanthan showed his technical finesse, providing a delicious outside-of-the-foot pass that slithered through the Jaguars defence and found Maxime, who failed to find the back of the net.

But the Belgian was not to be denied, opening the scoring just a minute later. Anu was once again involved, this time outmuscling the burly Mirko Šugić to win the ball just outside the Tanjong Pagar penalty box before laying it on a plate for Maxime to score his 15th goal of the season. 

The goal set the tone for a dominant performance by the away side.

In the 27th minute the Sailors doubled their lead through a well-executed team move, with Rasaq comfortably placing the ball in the net off Maxime’s left flank cross for his ninth of the campaign. 

Tanjong Pagar halved the deficit with Faizal Roslan scoring off a 30th-minute corner, and with the Sailors seeming to lose steam, the first half ended with the scoreline locked at 2-1.

Ranko’s Sailors started the second half with a renewed intensity and the home side struggled to contain the Sailors’ offensive onslaught that saw a total of 25 shots peppered onto the Jaguars’ goal, with the Sailors’ finding the net five more times from 12 of those shots that found the target.

Central defender Lionel Tan scored his first goal for the club, Hami Syahin bagged his first of the season, with Shawal Anuar also getting on the scoresheet, while man-of-the-match Diego Lopes bagged a brace in a scintillating performance.

There was a further glimpse into the pipeline of talent coming through the Academy with 19-year-old Nur Muhammad Asis coming on for the last five minutes of the match. The captain of the Sailors Under-21 side gave a good account of himself, with a superb pass to put Haiqal Pashia clean through on the Tanjong Pagar goal.

“We suffered a little lack of concentration after conceding that goal in the first half, but I think we stepped up well in the second half,” said Ranko. 

“Before the second half, I told the boys to stick to the plan, and that is exactly what we did, and when you see the team execute exactly what you have prepared for on the training ground, you just feel very proud of them,” added the Sailors’ new man at the helm. 

Anu, who made his 40th appearance for the club against the Jaguars, enjoyed the first match in the Ranko era. 

“He emphasises a lot on tactical discipline, and we all have a specific role given by the coach so we are all more focused. What we saw today was that we all worked together and followed the game plan, carrying out our tasks sincerely,” said the 28-year-old, who paid tribute to the sensational support the Sailors received from the Jurong East stands. 

“The fans were absolutely amazing, they were exceptionally loud today,” said Anu. “My teammates and I are very grateful for their support. Even though it was an away game, many fans came down to support us. The Crew is truly our 12th man and an integral part of our win today.”

The Sailors are now second in the SPL table, on 36 points, four behind league leaders Albirex Niigata (S). Tampines Rovers are third, on 34 points, but with one game in hand over the two teams that sit above them. 

While he was pleased with the result – and the ability of his charges to deliver on the gameplan – Ranko was acutely aware to not get carried away.

“I think we shouldn’t focus so much on if we can or cannot catch Albirex, we should be focused only on our performance, and doing everything we can to win every game from now on.”

The Sailors will be back in SPL action on Friday (7 July), facing the SPL’s bottom side Young Lions at the Jalan Besar Stadium.