As the final whistle sounded, players on the bench ran onto the pitch to celebrate with their teammates while fans on the stands broke out in chants of “Campeones”.
Water from the mineral water bottles was doused over heads, with head coach Yeong Sheau Shyan and team manager Shuhadah Sinwan amongst those not spared as the entire team, including the coaches and officials, were drenched by the time the lights were turned off at the Yishun Stadium.
These jubilant post-match scenes on Saturday (10 September) night came after the Lion City Sailors Women swept Still Aerion FC aside 4-0 to seal their first-ever Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) title with two games to spare.
Specially-designed “Champions” T-shirts were also donned as the team and the fans celebrated in unison on a stellar achievement by the club.
Madison Telmer struck the opener on the stroke of half time, before second-half goals from Paula Druschke, Dorcas Chu and Ho Hui Xin wrapped up the victory – which meant they moved eight points clear at the top and would not be caught by second-placed Tanjong Pagar United.
With that, the Sailors became the 14th different winner of the WPL in 21 seasons, ending the four-year reign of Warriors FC between 2016 to 2019. The WPL was not played in the Covid-19 pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.
Sheau Shyan was pleased with how her charges recovered from a sluggish first-half display to turn on the style after the break and officially confirm their status as 2022 WPL champions.
“In the first half, we didn’t execute the game plan the way we wanted to. There was a gap between the backline and the frontline – the connection wasn’t there and we resorted to a lot of long balls, which isn’t our style,” analysed the 44-year-old.
“I felt our defence wasn’t taking it seriously enough and our opponents could have scored a couple of goals on the breakaway. I had to tell them off a bit and remind them not to be complacent at the back, so I’m definitely happy that the second-half performance was way better than the first.”
With the team having only one training session together in the lead-up to this match due to the FIFA international window, the Sailors looked a pale shadow of their usual selves in the beginning and were unable to produce their usual slick passing football.
It was only until the latter stages of the first half with a band of Sailors fans started streaming in – they travelled from Our Tampines Hub where the Singapore Premier League game was played – when the women started to get their act together, as Madison surged through the middle to fire the Sailors into the lead.
“It was as if we waited for the fans to come in with the cheers to pick up our performance,” chuckled Sheau Shyan. “But I’ve to say the support from them helped to bring us to a different level and they are really our 12th player.”
Things started to flow in the second half, with Paula whipping a stupendous free kick into the top left corner on 54 minutes to double the Sailors’ advantage.
The substitutes then stole the show towards the end, with Dorcas heading home Paula’s outswinging corner in the 79th minute before Hui Xin netted a gorgeous strike from range to complete the rout.
Reflecting on the title triumph, Sailors captain Ernie Sulastri paid tribute to the dedication and hard work put in by the team.
“This team deserves to win the title because we put 100 percent into every training. It’s not easy for most of us who have been managing both club and international duties, but everyone has been willing to sacrifice time for the cause.
“Credit also goes to the coaches and officials, who have been very patient with us and trying to get everyone to gel. For us it’s not just about winning the title, it’s about how we got together as a team to execute the coach’s game plan,” elaborated the 33-year-old.
The Sailors’ final two matches are against Tiong Bahru on 24 September and Tanjong Pagar on 2 October, with Coach Sheau Shyan already looking forward to the latter game to correct some previous wrongs.
“We didn’t get a goal against Tanjong Pagar the last time (in a 0-0 draw which was the only occasion that the Sailors dropped points this season) so we definitely want to get that win,” she said.
“As a team, we still have things to work on including trying to break the low block. Once the season is finished, then we can properly celebrate as a team.”
Singing from the same hymn book, Ernie said, “We cannot stay stagnant and be comfortable even if we’ve already won the league. We need to work hard to further improve our team chemistry and see how we progress as a team.
“It’s not just about scoring goals; we want to be more composed on the ball, know how to release the ball quicker, circulate the ball and most importantly play beautiful football for our fans to enjoy.”