There was a sense of déjà vu at the Bishan Stadium on Friday night (3 March). For the second time in a week, the venue bore witness to a 3-1 Lion City Sailors win in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).

While it was Tanjong Pagar United who suffered defeat to the Sailors last Friday, this time around, it was the returning Brunei DPMM side – playing their first SPL game in three years – who found themselves on the wrong end of that scoreline.

The outcome may have been the same, but it was a much-improved display from the Sailors, a performance that brought a smile to Head Coach Risto Vidaković. 

“In the second half, we played much better, and we kept possession very well. We created many opportunities…it was a much better second half than the one we played (against Tanjong Pagar) last week,” he said after the game.

It was a slow start for the Sailors in the first-half, however, as they struggled to come to terms with DPMM’s physical and robust approach to the game.

Maxime Lestienne could have opened the scoring for the home team early on, but his effort from close range crashed off the woodwork.

But the Belgian – who bagged himself three assists against Tanjong Pagar – did not have to wait too long to score his first goal of the season. Just before the half-time break, Diego Lopes broke free down the left, before cutting it back for Maxime to expertly guide the ball into the back of the net to give the Sailors the breakthrough.

DPMM did, however, manage to find an equaliser in the 62nd minute, when a pass from Sailors goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad was intercepted and eventually led to the visitors scoring through the lively Hakeme Yazid.

Reflecting on the conceded goal, Risto said: “Mistakes are a part of football, it always happens. It’s just that when a goalkeeper makes a mistake, it’s more visible than when other players do. But it doesn’t matter, I want him to just forget what happened and try to do it better in the next game.”

Far from letting their heads go down, the Sailors seemed to find another gear after the DPMM equaliser and began to assert themselves.

Risto’s men were duly rewarded in the 75th minute when new signing Kodai Tanaka scored his third goal in two games by nodding into an empty net after being found by Diego’s header across the six-yard box.

Deep into stoppage time, the Sailors ensured they would take all three points, when substitutes Shawal Anuar – making his first appearance in the Sailors’ white and blue – and Abdul Rasaq Akeem combined for the latter to score an emphatic third.

“After the (DPMM) equaliser, the team took things into their hands and seized control of the game, which led to us scoring two goals and securing the deserved win,” said Risto.

“It was difficult to prepare for DPMM because they haven’t played competitively for three years, so we didn’t have much information on them. We expected them to go long most of the time as they have tall players in attack, but I think our boys did well to handle that.”

The Sailors, who moved top of the nine-team SPL table with the win, will next take on champions Albirex Niigata (S) at the Jurong East Stadium on Thursday (9 March) night.