They were held to a 3-3 draw by Balestier Khalsa in their Singapore Cup opener in October last year, but there was no repeat of that on Monday (25 September) as the Lion City Sailors comfortably dispatched the Tigers 7-0 at Bishan Stadium to get their 2023 Singapore Cup Group B campaign up and running.
Richairo Živković and Diego Lopes bagged a hat-trick each, while Adam Swandi also got his name on the scoresheet as the Sailors bounced back in style following their narrow Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) opening day 2-1 defeat to Bangkok United last Wednesday (20 Sept).
The result meant the Sailors top Group B after the first matchday, ahead of second-placed Tanjong Pagar who defeated Hougang United 2-1 in the other group game.
The absence of top scorer Maxime Lestienne through suspension seemed to matter little to the Sailors. It took them just three minutes to get their noses in front, with Diego setting up Richi to fire past Balestier custodian Hairul Syirhan from a tight angle.
The men in blue went two goals up on 11 minutes after Richi lashed home into the bottom corner after being teed up by Shawal Anuar.
Diego then got his first of the night with a neatly-curled effort in the 19th minute, before getting his second with an easy finish off a rebound after Hafiz Nor’s shot was parried into his path six minutes later.
Richi would complete his first-half hat-trick in the 36th minute, latching onto another Diego pass before calmly slotting it into the far corner to make it 5-0.
It was his first hat-trick in Sailors colours – one that the Curaçaon forward was pleased with.
“It’s a nice feeling and I personally felt that I had a great game today. I liked how the team played, putting pressure on Balestier from the get-go and dominating the game throughout,” said the 27-year-old, who has already netted a total of nine goals in all competitions since joining in the mid-season transfer window.
The Sailors continued from where they left off, extending their advantage less than a minute after the game resumed for the second half.
Shawal’s cross was chested down by Richi into the path of Diego, whose firm drive found the back of the net for the goal that gave him his second Sailors hat-trick.
The Brazilian’s first came in a 8-0 thumping of Geylang International in April 2021.
With an eye on their ACL away clash against Hong Kong’s Kitchee SC on Wednesday (4 October), Sailors Head Coach Aleksandar Ranković rang the changes shortly thereafter.
In came the likes of midfielder Adam shortly after the hour mark, as well as Harith Kanadi who replaced Chris van Huizen at left-back in the 71st minute for what was his Sailors debut.
“We did everything we could to finish the tie as soon as possible and I was pleased to be able to make some changes ahead of a tougher opponent next week,” noted Ranko.
Adam grabbed the game’s final goal with 15 minutes remaining, with an unstoppable shot that arrowed into the bottom corner for his fourth goal in all competitions this year.
Speaking after the game, Ranko heaped praise on his charges for a job well done.
“I was happy with the way we played, especially with how we scored in the first-half. We were effective and the game was done and dusted by then,” said the Serb.
“I don’t like to single out anyone for praise as it will be unfair to the rest of the team. I must say that the players, even those who started on the bench, put in a good shift when they came in which gives me a good headache as a coach.”
Ranko was meanwhile, happy with what he saw from goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, who kept a clean sheet on his first Sailors start since November 2022.
“I was very satisfied with Izwan’s performance today and it’s nice to see him getting back to play at this level,” Ranko said of the 33-year-old, who returned after a lengthy layoff from an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
“With Izwan and Zharfan (Rohaizad), I’m delighted to have two quality goalkeepers at my disposal and it’s going to be a tough challenge, especially for my goalkeeper coaches.”
The Sailors will next face Kitchee at the Hong Kong Stadium, before taking on Tanjong Pagar United in their second Singapore Cup Group B match on 21 October.