It was a mixed bag of results for the Sailors over the past week as they fell to a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to Albirex Niigata (S) before bouncing back with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Geylang International in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).

Here, we round up the three major talking points from the two matches, as Aurelio Vidmar’s charges gear up for the final three games of the season.

Sailors keep their heads up in the face of adversity

As the saying goes: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. A hallmark of a great team is their ability to rise after falling, and that was certainly on display in the Sailors’ performances in their last two matches.

Against Albirex, they fell behind twice in the first-half, but fought back well to level the score within 10-odd minutes on each occasion. The White Swans would take the lead for a third time late into the game, and although the Sailors were ultimately unable to find a reply to that goal, they kept pushing forward until the final whistle, and can perhaps count themselves unlucky not to finish the game with at least a point.

Then, against Geylang, Aurelio Vidmar’s men found themselves continually frustrated by a disciplined Geylang backline and an inspired Hairul Syirhan, who kept the Sailors out with a series of fine saves.

It would have been easy for the Sailors to get frustrated, especially with the score still locked at 0-0 by the 70-minute mark.

Other teams might have thrown their game plan out the window and resorted to route one football then. But not the Sailors. Instead, they stayed patient and stuck to Aurelio’s philosophy of possession-based football.

And they were duly rewarded, breaking the deadlock through a stunning counter-attacking move that started all the way from goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and ended in Song Ui-Young’s neat finish from close range.

Not content to sit on their one-goal advantage, the Sailors kept pushing forward, with both Gabriel Quak and Kaishu Yamazaki eventually also finding the back of the net before the final whistle.

The unwavering fighting spirit and dogged persistence from the boys when things were not going their way bodes well for the Sailors as they look to finish the season strongly.

Gabriel Quak – a possible Player of the Year contender?

Who has been the standout performer for the Sailors this season? It’s a tough question to answer, given that a number of players have shone since the league restarted in mid-October.

Among them is Gabriel Quak, who has undoubtedly been one of the Sailors’ brightest sparks.

While the Sailors had to cope without striker-in-chief Stipe Plazibat for the past two matches due to injury, the Croatian’s absence has thankfully not been felt too keenly, and that is largely down to Gabriel’s performances.

Often deployed in a central role – either as an attacking midfielder behind striker Shahril Ishak, or as a False 9 up top – Gabriel has been a revelation for the Sailors this season, and his influential performance against Geylang was a perfect showcase of the qualities that he brings to the team.

The 29-year-old’s nifty footwork helped him bamboozle past two Geylang defenders to score the Sailors’ second, before he showed great awareness to tee Kaishu up for the team’s third and final goal in stoppage time.

Currently with a league-leading six assists to his name, Gabriel appears to be going from strength to strength with each passing game. At this rate, no one will bet against the Singapore international from being nominated, and even winning, the Player of the Year gong at the SPL’s year-end awards.

Strength in depth the key in hectic run-in

The hectic run of fixtures in a truncated SPL season has taken a toll on most teams, with several players throughout the league suffering muscular and ligament injuries. The Sailors have likewise been affected by injuries, with Stipe unable to significantly feature in the last two matches after pulling his hamstring in the 3-1 win over Hougang United last Tuesday (Nov 17).

The hectic schedule leaves coaches with a conundrum – should they practice squad rotation to keep their top stars fresh, and risk having the team’s performances suffer as a result of their absence? Or should they keep playing their key players throughout, and hope they do not suffer a lengthy injury?

This is where the importance of squad depth comes into play. With the final three games of the campaign set to be played over seven gruelling days – on top of what has already been a frenetic season so far – the chances of injury are heightened, and how coaches utilise their squad for this final stretch will be crucial in determining the final league standings.

Thankfully for the Sailors, they have arguably the strongest bench in the league, with Aurelio previously remarking that “every player in the team can play in the starting-11”.

And their upcoming game against the Young Lions this Sunday (Nov 29), 5.30pm, at the Jurong West Stadium, might provide Aurelio the chance to rest some of his big names for the crunch match against title-chasing Tampines Rovers next Wednesday (Dec 2).

This could see the likes of Abdil Qaiyyim, Faizal Roslan, club captain Izzdin Shafiq and even Adam Swandi be handed a start against the Young Lions – all dependable players who could easily be regular starters for the Sailors, who will undoubtedly give their 100 per cent to prove that they deserve an extended run in the starting 11.

Now, that is what you call squad depth.