Armed with a talented squad that includes a number of Singapore internationals, promising foreign players and young talents, the Lion City Sailors Women set an ambitious goal for themselves in their maiden Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) campaign – they did not just want to win the league, they wanted to do it in style, with an entertaining brand of attacking football.
And they delivered, in emphatic fashion, passing and moving to the WPL title in their maiden season.
The road to being crowned champions of the first post-pandemic WPL season was paved with various pitfalls: from players leaving the country and the club to pursue work and academic goals, injuries, and challenging conditions at the Yishun Stadium, to inspired performances from stubborn opposition.
But the Sailors women were rooted in their united belief that hard work, a firm commitment to the playing philosophy and sheer doggedness would get them to the finish line in what turned out to be a memorable voyage to the WPL title.
Hitting the ground with a sprint
Head Coach Yeong Sheau Shyan and her charges stayed true to their word, getting their season off to a flyer as they dispatched Albirex Niigata (S) 4-1 on 5 June with Nur Izzati Rosni grabbing a brace, before thrashing Hougang United 6-0 courtesy of a couple of goals each from Lila Tan and Dorcas Chu to make it two wins out of two.
A one-month hiatus due to Singapore’s involvement in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship failed to halt their momentum as they swept aside Still Aerion FC 4-0 on their return to league action through braces from Izzati and Danelle Tan. They then edged Tiong Bahru 2-1 through another Danelle double to keep their 100% record intact after four matches.
There was no doubt that the Sailors laid down a serious marker from the start, firmly establishing themselves as the team to beat in the early days of the season.
First setback before rediscovering the groove
The Sailors Women hit a snag in their fifth WPL outing, failing to break down a compact defensive block set up by Tanjong Pagar United and had to be content with a 0-0 draw.
There was clear frustration from Sheau Shyan and the players after the result, but they channelled that into positive energy, defeating Balestier Khalsa 4-0 in their next fixture – with Danelle netting in her final Sailors outing before returning to the United Kingdom to resume her studies – and got back to winning ways.
Next up was a tricky task against Albirex – bolstered by a few mid-season arrivals including former Japan international Kana Kitahara – but the Sailors delivered one of their most convincing displays in 2022 to smash the White Swans 4-0 with Izzati starring with her first-ever WPL hat-trick.
The league leaders then overcame Balestier 3-0 before tearing Hougang apart 6-0 – with Canadian teenager Madison Telmer netting a treble – as the Sailors registered four straight wins to remain five points clear at the top with a game in hand on closest rivals Tanjong Pagar.
More importantly, they were at that point, just one win away from sealing the title.
Sealing the crown as Invincibles
The title triumph was then confirmed two weeks later on 10 September as Sheau Shyan’s women recovered from a sluggish first-half display to demolish Still Aerion 4-0 – a result that saw raucous celebrations at the final whistle as players celebrated in unison with fans who made the trip up north to Yishun.
The title was sewn up with two games left to play, but the women were not fully done. They had set their sights on finishing the season unbeaten, and the job still required work.
Their five-match winning run would come to an end against a resolute Tiong Bahru side as they were held to a goalless draw and failed to win for just the second time in 2022.
The final match of the season would not come any easier as they came up against a determined Tanjong Pagar side, who were gunning for a win to seal second spot. Yuki Monden drew first blood for the Jaguars as the Sailors’ goal was breached for the first time in eight matches, but the champions rallied and levelled through Lila before netting a dramatic injury-time winner through Fatin Aqillah to end the season on a high note.
As the Sailors lifted the WPL trophy and were presented with the S$25,000 winners’ cheque after the game, there was little doubt that it was a thoroughly deserved triumph.
The Sailors were the only team to beat every other team in the league, they ended the campaign with the best attacking and defensive record, scoring 39 and conceding just three, they finished seven points clear of eventual runners-up Albirex and Izzati picked up the top scorers’ award with 10 goals to top it all off.
Over the course of the season, the players showed their ability to break down stubborn defences and display the brand of progressive football that they set out to achieve from the get-go.
While plans are still being firmed up for the 2023 WPL season, one thing is for certain: the Sailors women will return for the new campaign with the same desire and increased motivation to retain their spot as the Queens of Singapore football.