As the final whistle sounded at the Bishan Stadium on Wednesday (7 June) night, several heads among those in the Lion City Sailors’ camp hung low, with some even dropping their knees to the ground.

The Sailors mustered 14 shots, with six on target, but ended the evening with just a solitary goal – and a single point – in a 1-1 draw against Singapore Premier League title rivals Tampines Rovers. 

The result does little for the Sailors’ title charge, putting Risto Vidaković’s charges third in the nine-team SPL standings, on 27 points. 

Tampines are second on 30 points, level with league leaders Albirex Niigata (S) who have a superior goal difference, and have played a game less than their two closest rivals. 

Despite the draw, Risto was pleased with what he saw from his charges. 

“Nothing went wrong today. We had many chances, but we just failed to capitalise on them. I am proud of my players because they gave everything and worked hard,” said the Sailors’ Head Coach.  

“They followed my instructions with attention and exhibited dedication in their performance today. We created a lot of chances, so that is very good, but we missed a lot of these chances also – so we need to work on that. 

“But we perhaps didn’t help ourselves by conceding first,” said the 54-year-old.

The Sailors dominated early proceedings and could have gotten off to a flying start after just three minutes. 

Maxime Lestienne’s delicious out-swinging corner was cleared by the Tampines defence with the ball finding its way to combative midfielder M. Anumanthan, whose instinctive volley was parried away by Tampines custodian Syazwan Buhari.

Abdul Rasaq Akeem, who made his fifth start of the season, almost opened the scoring in the 20th minute, dribbling past Shuya Yamashita and into the Tampines penalty box before launching a rasping shot that was tipped over by Syazwan.

Rasaq did put the ball into the Tampines goal, but his 39th minute tap-in off a Maxime cross was chalked off for offside. 

The Sailors were made to rue those missed oppportunities as Gavin Lee’s charges went ahead in the 58th minute, through Faris Ramli – with the former Sailor curling a shot past Zharfan Rohaizad in the Sailors’ goal.

Nevertheless, the Sailors pressed and capitalised on the numerical advantage after Yasir Hanapi was sent off in the 63rd minute for a second bookable offence following a late challenge on Súper. 

The Sailors came close to an equaliser in the 67th minute, first with Rasaq’s close-range header bouncing off the crossbar, then the rebound was lashed towards goal by Maxime, a rasping shot that was somehow cleared off the line by Yamashita.

It took a penalty for the Sailors to finally break Tampines’ resolve. Faris was adjudged to have fouled Maxime following an 80th minute on-field VAR review, with the Belgian then slamming home from the spot to level the tie.

With substitutes Haiqal Pashia and Rusyaidi Salime introducing extra impetus to the side, the Sailors almost snatched all three points in the 90th minute with Maxime setting up Diego Lopes, who smashed a right-footed shot that forced Syazwan to tip over the bar. 

Sailors defender Súper (Manuel Herrera López), who put up an outstanding display at the heart of defence, rued the Sailors’ inability to capitalise on chances created. 

“We came to win the game and close the gap between us and Tampines and Albirex, so we were naturally disappointed not to get the three points. We need to focus on the next game now,” said the 32-year-old.

“Tampines is an excellent team, and it is not easy to play against them. But the positives are we had several key chances, but we were just unlucky.”

However, Súper drew on the positives of an improved defensive display from the side after they conceded four the last time out. 

“We played very compact today when we were defending, and we pressed aggressively to win the ball back, which is something that we need to maintain from now on.”

“I can assure you that everyone in this team is mentally strong, and we are determined to get the three points against Young Lions this Saturday,” declared the Spaniard, of the Sailors’ next SPL assignment, hosting the Young Lions at Bishan this Saturday (10 June).