Desire, commitment and grit – the Lion City Sailors displayed all these qualities as they dug deep into their reserves to claim a much-needed 2-1 win over Tampines Rovers at Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday (24 July) evening to return to winning ways in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).
After two consecutive 1-1 draws and seeing their lead atop the SPL standings whittled down to two points after Albirex Niigata’s 5-0 win over Young Lions the day earlier, the Sailors needed to win.
And Kim Do-hoon’s men seized the initiative to lead at the break, courtesy of Song Ui-young’s header.
But Taufik Suparno’s late equaliser for Tampines thereafter looked set to condemn the champions to a third straight draw, until Pedro Henrique popped up in the box in the fourth minute of injury time to slam home a dramatic last-gasp winner.
After making a crucial intervention to stop a Tampines through ball, the Brazilian centre-back burst forward to support the attack.
As substitute Maxime Lestienne combined expertly with Diego Lopes down the left to work the way into the danger area, Pedro found himself at the right place at the right time to slam home – and in the process, restored the Sailors’ five-point lead at the SPL summit.
Sailors head coach Kim Do-hoon was proud of his side’s resilience and the unwavering fan support that brought forth a massive three points ahead of a crucial away game against title rivals Albirex this Friday (29 July).
“After two draws, we needed to come back stronger – and we did. The players ran and fought till the last minute – we owe it to them and the fans who were cheering all the way.
“These three points are very important for us and give us a huge boost for the upcoming games, but we’re also aware we need to train harder to refine our touches and finishing,” said the 52-year-old.
This game also marked the Sailors’ partnership with Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) to promote awareness of the cause. A total of $25,500 was raised for DAS through tickets issued ahead of kickoff, with Tampines getting on board the worthy cause as club Chairman Desmond Ong presented a cheque of $5,000 to DAS.
The Sailors have never gone three games without a win since their 2020 inception and the players on the field dug deep to prevent that scenario.
Pedro and captain Hariss partnered well at the back to shut out the threat brought by Tampines’ league-leading goal scorer Boris Kopitović in the first half as the Sailors gradually took command of proceedings.
After Diego produced a silky pirouette turn to earn a foul off Firdaus Kasman on the edge of the box, Shahdan Sulaiman played in the perfect free-kick for Song to nod past a stranded Syazwan in the Tampines goal in the 30th minute.
The Sailors went close on another two occasions before half-time and had a couple of half-chances after the break, but Tampines came back strongly in the latter stages of the game as Taufik slotted the ball past Hassan Sunny after being put through on goal by fellow substitute Irwan Shah to equalise on 77 minutes.
Hassan later stood firm to deny Kopitović from point-blank range six minutes later, and that brilliant save paved the way for a stunning late show by the Sailors.
With the clock ticking down, the Sailors surged forward and found a stoppage-time winner through Pedro – who altered the complexion of the SPL title race with one clean swing of his left boot.
Emotions ran high in a game of huge significance with both sets of players involved in some unsavoury scenes after the final whistle, as Coach Kim apologised for what transpired.
“Results aside, we would like to apologise to the fans for showing such emotions,” he said.
“Emotions can get rough during a game and it’s up to us to control it. It got a bit heated, but we’ll make sure this won’t happen again.”