The Lion City Sailors Women’s Team continued their impressive start to the 2024 Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) season with a dominant 4-0 victory over title rivals Hougang United at Yishun Stadium on Sunday (15 Apr) evening. 

A commanding first-half performance saw them take a three goal lead into the break, before a late strike by Josephine Ang sealed an emphatic win, propelling them three points clear at the top of the table with three victories in as many matches.

The result and manner of victory was particularly impressive, given that two teenagers were making their first starts for the Sailors in the WPL.

Nur Izairida Shakira was handed her first-ever start in goal in the WPL, replacing experienced custodian Beatrice Tan. Despite her youth and inexperience, the 16-year-old – who previously made a brief appearance in a 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata (S) three weeks ago – did not look out of place, as she made several impressive saves to deny Hougang’s Nicole Lim and secure her first-ever WPL clean sheet.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Natasha Kaur was given the nod in central midfield – this meant that all seven teenagers promoted from the club’s Girls Academy have now featured in the women’s top flight in 2024. The other six are the aforementioned Shakira, Tyan Foong, Yuvika Suresh, Seri Nurinsyirah, Nadia Nuraffendi and Liyana Rickit.

Analysing his young team’s win over title challengers Hougang, Sailors Head Coach Daniel Ong said, “The players stuck to the game plan diligently and fought for each other on the pitch. We knew that this game wouldn’t be easy. But all the girls were up to the task today, and that leaves me with nothing much to complain about.

“Shakira controlled her defence well and made a few good interventions throughout. As for Natasha, she showed some promising moments and will definitely improve with more training and matches.”

Daniel’s young charges dominated early proceedings, and it was no surprise when they broke the deadlock in the 20th minute. Syazwani Ruzi delivered a defence-splitting pass for hotshot forward Raeka Ee, who fired home a composed finish into the bottom right corner for her fifth goal of the season. 

The goal means Raeka has now scored in each of her three WPL appearances so far, as she continues to make an impact in her debut season in the top flight.

The Sailors’ lead was doubled on 39 minutes when Nur Sarah Zu’risqha’s industrious play down the flank resulted in an own goal by Hougang’s Nur Izyani.

The Sailors extended their lead further just before half-time, when centre-back Sara Hayduchok headed home from Ho Hui Xin’s precise cross.

Natasha, who showed a maturity beyond her years in the middle of the pitch, was subsequently subbed off for new signing Laura Gänser.

Reflecting on her performance, the 14-year-old said, “I made quite a few good runs and passes, but I think I could still improve further on my positioning and when to time my runs. I’m grateful to senior players like Hui Xin and Sara for guiding me along. Now, my next target is to complete my first 90 minutes in the WPL.”

A three-goal lead meant the Sailors were able to take their foot off the gas in the second half. But they still had time to add the icing on the cake in the 88th minute with a fourth goal, as substitute Josephine converted home a firm low finish for her first goal of the season.

The win extends the Sailors’ unbeaten streak in the WPL to 33 matches – a run that stretches all the way back to 2022.

Despite the convincing start to the season, however, Daniel does not want his players to rest on their laurels, as he emphasised the need to strive for continual improvement. 

“There’re still some details that we can work on, especially when it comes to making better use of our ball possession, and how to read each other’s body movements on the pitch. But I’m sure with the girls’ commitment, we’ll surely get even better.”

Next up for the Sailors Women in the WPL is an encounter against Tanjong Pagar next Saturday (20 April) at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium.