As the final whistle sounded at Our Tampines Hub (OTH) on Friday night (4 March), shoulders slumped and heads hung low amongst the Lion City Sailors.
On the other half of the OTH pitch, jubilant fists were thrown into the Tampines sky, as confetti rained down as Geylang International celebrated what will go down as a famous 1-0 victory over the defending Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions.
The Eagles scored an early goal, then put in a stubborn defensive performance to hand the Sailors their first defeat in 21 matches in all competitions. It was Kim Do-hoon’s first loss in 13 outings as Sailors coach since he took over in July 2021.
The former Ulsan Hyundai man made no excuses for the Sailors’ off-colour display.
“Geylang prepared well, so credit to them for that. In football, you have to score to win and we didn’t do that today. So we’ll have to go back and take a look at the game again, keep our chins up, work harder to prepare better and bounce back – I’m confident we will bounce back,” said the 51-year-old.
Playing in front of a boisterous 978-strong crowd at OTH, with the majority turning out to root for Geylang in what was their first game of the 2022 season, a rejigged Sailors side had issues finding their rhythm in the first half.
An aggressive Geylang side pressed high up the field before the visitors could settle, forcing the Sailors to concede possession near their own penalty area in the ninth minute of play – and that proved fatal. Eagles’ French midfielder Vincent Bezecourt picked up possession and lashed in a low rasping drive past Izwan Mahbud.
Izwan’s debut game for the Sailors saw three other changes to the Sailors’ lineup, along with Adam Swandi, Faris Ramli and Amiruldin Asraf who led the Sailors’ attack.
Amiruldin toiled hard upfront, with the Sailors going close midway through the first half with Faris firing wide from the edge of the box.
The Sailors’ bid for a come-from-behind victory was hamstrung by the dismissal of Pedro Henrique in the 34th minute, with the Brazilian centre-back shown a straight red for what was deemed a professional foul on Eagles’ Croatian forward Šime Žužul.
“The red card obviously had an impact on the game – it’s not easy to play against any opponent when you are one man down – but Pedro was trying his best for the team,” said Kim.
Despite being a man down for the majority of the game, Kim continued to push his Sailors forward in search of goals, introducing added attacking impetus at half time with Diego Lopes and Kim Shin-wook both coming on as part of a triple change, before Maxime Lestienne joined the fray soon after.
Shin-wook’s presence upfront created a few problems for the Eagles’ backline and the former Shanghai Shenhua man almost poked home on the hour mark after Amirul Adli had knocked on Adam’s inswinging corner.
The Sailors’ best chance of the night came on 66 minutes with Maxime and Diego combining to great effect down the left, with the latter looking set to slot into the bottom right corner before a stunning fingertip save by Geylang custodian Zaiful Nizam.
Hafiz Nor was the last throw of the dice as the Sailors threw bodies forward in the final 15 minutes, but could not find a way past a resolute Eagles backline led by Rio Sakuma.
A couple of late set-piece opportunities bore no fruit as the Sailors fell to their first defeat of the season. This was the first time the Sailors had failed to score in 35 matches – they last drew a blank in a 4-0 defeat to Tampines Rovers in March 2020.
Kim and his Sailors will host Tampines at the Jalan Besar Stadium the following Sunday (13 Mar) and he called for reflection and improvement.
“We learn from every game, and we’ll learn more from games that we lose,” said a resolute Kim.
“It’s only the second game of the season for us, so we’ll go back, analyse what happened, and we’ll learn – we’ll learn and bounce back.”