Many had expected the Lion City Sailors’ Singapore Premier League (SPL) clash against an in-form Balestier Khalsa side, who were unbeaten in their last five matches, to be a closely fought encounter.
The Sailors had other ideas, as they turned on the style at the Bishan Stadium yesterday evening (Nov 7) and romped to a convincing 7-1 victory over the Tigers.
Indeed, such was the Sailors’ dominance yesterday that the match was effectively over by half-time, with Aurelio Vidmar’s men holding a 5-0 lead at the break courtesy of a Stipe Plazibat hat-trick as well as goals from Song Ui-Young and Saifullah Akbar.
Defender Tajeli Salamat and substitute Adam Swandi completed the rout for the Sailors in the second half, with Balestier scoring their consolation goal through Croatian striker Kristijan Krajcek.
The result represents the biggest win in the SPL this season, and caps off a tiring but encouraging week for the Sailors who bagged seven points out of the nine points on offer.
While pleased with the victory and the performance that went along with it, Sailors midfielder and captain for the night, Shahdan Sulaiman, insists the team will not read too much into the scoreline as they keep their sights simply on winning the next game.
“This result definitely gives the team a huge confidence boost, but at the same time, we know we need to take it one game at a time,” said Shahdan, who ended the match with two assists.
“Due to the early goal we had today, the match opened up, played to our advantage, and we were clinical enough to turn our chances into goals. We are also getting more familiar with how coach (Aurelio) wants us to play, and hopefully we will keep improving from here on out.”
Coach Aurelio also agreed that it was important for the Sailors to take it “one match at a time”.
He explained: “I just focus on the process, and the process is of trying to play a particular brand of football. We’re trying to get everyone up to speed to do that, and I know that when that’s done well, then the results will come.
“I’m not too fussed with what’s happening right now. We’ve won, but generally I don’t look forward too much…we’ve only got a couple of rounds (this season), so we need to focus on one match at a time, and that’s what we’ve done over these (last) seven days.”
Ominously for the rest of the teams in the league, coach Aurelio believes that this is still not the best the Sailors are capable of playing.
“We’re getting better. As I said last week, we need to keep doing the things that we’re doing, and continue to do that better and for longer periods,” Aurelio explained. “And I think we saw that as well tonight, there was some great football played in the first-half, some great goals, and it’s just the start because I think we’ve still got so much upside.
“I think there’s still a lot of improvement to go, not just on the type of football that we play, but in terms of our physical conditioning, as well as tactically and technically. Whether we’re going to get that this year, I’m not sure, but we’re taking it step by step.”
One of the things that has set the Sailors apart this season is their strength in depth, and Aurelio praised his players for rising to the challenge whenever they were called upon.
“What’s been more pleasing is that when we’re missing players – like Song on Wednesday (Nov 4) – players come in and do a great job for us. Tonight, we lost Hassan (to a finger injury), but Rudy came in and did a magnificent job,”he said.
“That’s a sign of a good team – a team that’s confident, a team that understands what’s happening, and with everyone believing in each other.”
With current league leaders Tampines Rovers dropping points following their 1-1 draw with Geylang International in Saturday’s (Nov 7) Eastern derby, the Sailors are now just five points behind the Stags at the halfway mark of the season.
While acknowledging that this was good news for the Sailors in their chase for the SPL title, Shahdan claims that the team are firmly focused on their own results.
“Of course, the leaders dropping points is good, not only for us but the rest of the league,” said the 32-year-old. “But we need to take a match at a time – first be consistent with our own results and not look too far ahead.”