The Lion City Sailors paid the penalty for their profligacy against the Young Lions on Saturday (15 April) night, as they were held to a 1-1 draw in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) by Philippe Aw’s men at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Despite taking an early lead through Maxime Lestienne, the Sailors just could not find the crucial second goal to put the game to bed, despite having more of the ball and fashioning the better chances.
They were eventually made to rue their failure to capitalise on their dominance late on, when Sailors centre-back Lionel Tan was adjudged to have impeded Jordan Emaviwe in the penalty box – with the latter then converting from the spot to equalise with what was the last kick of the game.
Labelling the late equaliser as “unlucky”, Sailors head coach Risto Vidaković admitted that it was a momentary loss of focus that cost them the three points on the night.
“In the end, we were unlucky in the last minute with the penalty, which I think came at a very bad moment for us,” Risto reflected. “But in football, this can happen – you lose concentration at the last minute and commit a foul. It’s something that can happen, and we just have to improve.”
The night, however, started on a brilliant note for Risto’s side as it took only six minutes for the in-form Maxime to open the scoring, with the Belgian meeting Diego Lopes’ cutback and placing an unerring shot into the bottom corner for his sixth goal of the season.
The Sailors continued to put pressure on the home side, and very nearly doubled their lead in the 29th minute when striker Abdul Rasaq Akeem uncharacteristically put his close-range effort off-target after being found in the box by stand-in captain Hafiz Nor.
Hafiz wore the armband – in place of Hariss Harun who was sidelined by illness – in what was his 60th SPL appearance for the Sailors.
The 34-year-old is now the top SPL appearance maker for the club, superseding Gabriel Quak who played 59 times between 2020 to 2022.
While the Young Lions came out of the second half determined to put up more of a fight, the Sailors were still able to fashion several decent chances in front of goal, including substitute Shawal Anuar’s first-time volley in the 71st minute that went just wide.
Maxime found himself through on goal, 15 minutes later, but his shot from a tight angle was denied by Young Lions custodian Aizil Yazid at the near post.
Those missed opportunities came back to haunt the Sailors as the Young Lions stole a share of the spoils from the spot nine minutes into injury time.
Reflecting on the match as a whole, Risto said: “I expected a game like this. It was very competitive, they defended well, sat deep, kept compact, and gave us a physical battle. So it didn’t surprise me that the Young Lions put up a fight, especially in the second half.
“However, we tried our best, but missed a lot of chances in the first half. Now, we have to rest and forget what happened in this game. We’ll recover from this and try to play better in the next part of the season.”
Sailors defender Súper (Manuel Herrera López), who was named Man of the Match, added: “We are very disappointed with the result today because we got one point, but we were looking for all three points.
“Our promise to the fans is that we will keep working hard to improve in every department – from the defence to the midfield, to the strikers, and come back stronger.”
The result leaves the Sailors second in the SPL, five points behind league leaders Albirex Niigata (S). The Sailors will next be in action on Sunday 7 May, when they go away to face Geylang International.