The Lion City Sailors clinched their first piece of silverware of the 2024/25 season on Saturday (4 May) night, as they lifted the Community Shield at the Jalan Besar Stadium following a 2-0 win over Albirex Niigata (S). 

Boasting a revamped squad with a few notable signings, the Sailors barely gave the reigning Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions a sniff, with goals from Shawal Anuar and Maxime Lestienne doing the damage on the night for Aleksandar Ranković’s side.

But even as the Sailors celebrated the win amid golden confetti, with captain Hariss Harun hoisting the Community Shield in front of a 4,148-strong crowd, what pleased Ranko the most was the commanding display of dominance exhibited by his side over Albirex throughout the match.

He said, “I think it was a good performance overall. We only allowed one shot on goal and we didn’t concede any corners. I think that says enough. I’m happy that we won, and this will give us a boost going into the upcoming games. That was what we were aiming for.”

In line with his pre-match assertion that he would take the Community Shield seriously, Ranko named a strong starting lineup that saw competitive debuts for new signings Toni Datković, Obren Kljajić and Bart Ramselaar.

And it was the Sailors who started the game the brighter out of the two sides, as they controlled possession and fashioned a few good chances in the opening period of the game.

Obren, in particular, stood out as the Sailors’ main threat down the left flank, causing problems for the Albirex defence with his marauding runs and crosses into the box.

Despite a dominant first half, it wasn’t until the 42nd minute that the Sailors found the breakthrough. It was a familiar combination that led to the goal, as Shawal latched onto Maxime’s beautifully lofted through pass before calmly slotting it past Albirex custodian Hassan Sunny to make it 1-0.

Reflecting on his goal, Shawal emphasised that it was a result of the strong connection and understanding he and Maxime had developed throughout the course of last season.

The 33-year-old had an impressive debut season with the Sailors in 2023, during which he scored 16 goals in 33 matches across all competitions. 

“Me and Maxime have that chemistry.” Shawal mused. “I’m always running in behind to give him an option for that pass. And as a striker, I’m always looking to do what the coach needs me to do, which is to finish.”

With a one-goal lead in the bag, the Sailors only grew in confidence after the break. However, Albirex were determined not to roll over for Ranko’s charges and kept things tight for the majority of the second half. 

Nonetheless, the Sailors remained focused on securing their second goal, and Bart came close to scoring on his debut with a fierce shot from outside the box in the 69th minute, but ex-Sailor Hassan proved to be equal to it.

The Sailors continued to probe in search of the all-important second goal, which finally arrived in the 80th minute when they were awarded a penalty after Albirex’s Amy Recha was deemed to have clipped Maxime in the box.

Maxime, last season’s AIA SPL Player of the Year, made no mistake from the spot to give the Sailors a two-goal lead – a margin that ultimately proved too difficult for Albirex to overcome.

While the Sailors’ debutants captured the attention of supporters, Ranko highlighted that it was the experience and leadership of the team’s seasoned players that played a crucial role in securing the victory.

“I’ve always said that players like Shawal are one of the MVPs of last season, and I’m really happy to have them in the team,” Ranko said with a grin. “For the newcomers, they just have to adapt and follow their lead. It’s only been one game and we’ve already secured a trophy, but the season has just started.”

The Sailors will look to build on their Community Shield win when they kick off their SPL campaign against Hougang United at Jalan Besar next Friday (10 May).