Three goals and a clean sheet in a 3-0 win over Geylang International two days ago (on 15 March) put the Lion City Sailors back on the right track for their assault on the 2023 Singapore Premier League (SPL) title, and they will look to continue in the same vein when they host Balestier Khalsa at Bishan Stadium on Saturday (18 March) evening.
With SPL frontrunners Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata (S) playing each other this matchweek, the Sailors have a chance to push themselves to the top of the nine-team SPL standings going into the two-week international break with a win in this one.
Fellow Bishan Stadium resident Balestier will be no pushovers under Dutch coach Peter de Roo, but creative midfielder Hami Syahin is confident that the Sailors can sail to their fourth win in 2023.
Confidence in the Sailors dressing room is quietly growing, especially with players returning from injury. Against Geylang, Adam Swandi put in a slick performance on his first start of the year, while Zulqarnaen Suzliman and Haiqal Pashia also made their first appearances of the season.
“It’s great to see these players coming back and we’ll certainly need all of them, given that it’s a long season ahead. There are positive signs and progress in what Coach Risto (Vidaković) wants us to display on the pitch,” said Hami.
“Of course we need to improve more aspects of our all-round game, but everyone’s feeling positive and we’re out to beat Balestier to go into the international break on a high,” he added.
A week ago, the 24-year-old Hami suffered disappointment, being subbed off just 17 minutes into the game for Arshad Shamim. This came following a tactical reshuffle after M Anumanthan was shown a straight red card.
That is perhaps the only blip for Hami who has emerged from a forgettable 2022 to become a fulcrum of the new-look Sailors Class of 2023.
Having started all four matches in the Sailors engine room alongside captain Hariss Harun, the Singapore international has already played more minutes than the whole of last season that saw him start in only two league games.
Hami’s assured displays and command of the ball in midfield have already caught the eye of fans and opposition players alike, and he is determined to build on his good start.
“It’s never a good feeling to be subbed off early of course, but someone has to sacrifice for the team. In the match against Albirex, it was me, and I fully understood our coach’s decision,” he recalled.
“I’m just very happy and blessed that I’m able to play regularly and perform well this year. It’s tough trying to bounce back after a bad year, but I just focused on playing to my strengths and trying to adapt to the team’s playing style – and fortunately that has worked out for me so far.
“It also helps to be playing alongside Hariss – he’s always there guiding us and I take every opportunity to play with him as a lesson to improve myself,” added Hami, who also drew confidence from new signing Manuel Herrera López.
The experienced Spanish defender made an instant impact and was colossal at the heart of defence alongside Lionel Tan, with the duo looking like they could strike up a sturdy partnership that is in for the long-term.
The man nicknamed Súper is keen to play down the plaudits and believes the best is yet to come from him.
“I don’t think I did so well, I’ll probably only give myself a 5 or 6 out of 10. It’s my first game in a long time, I need to find the rhythm and more endurance to play more games. But first game, first clean sheet – I couldn’t ask for more,” he said.
“I’m feeling a good connection between me and Lionel and I think he’s going to be a very good partner for me. I’ve followed this league for a long time – there’re scores like 4-3 or 5-2, too many goals conceded,” said the former Real Betis B player.
“My target here is to get as many clean sheets for the team, simple as that. Hopefully the next one comes against Balestier.”