After a 4-0 victory over Young Lions on Friday (7 July) at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the Lion City Sailors will be keen to keep their momentum flowing when they take on Brunei DPMM on Tuesday (11 July) night at the Bishan Stadium. 

The Sailors are currently second in the nine-team Singapore Premier League (SPL) table, with 39 points, two behind Albirex Niigata (S), while Tuesday’s opponents, DPMM, are seventh with only 15 points from 17 matches.

But the Bruneians are unpredictable, and the stakes are high. A win would propel Aleksandar Ranković’s men to the top of the table with 42 points before they take on title rivals Albirex on Sunday (16 June), turning the pressure on the Japanese side as the SPL enters the business end of the season. 

“DPMM have several key players like Andrei Varankou and Hakeme Yazid who we need to watch out for because they can cause us problems if we are not careful,” warned Sailors full-back Zulqarnaen Suzliman. “DPMM are also defensively very good: they are very compact when it comes to defending, and it would be difficult to play against them.” 

The point the 25-year-old made was underlined on Saturday (8 July), with DPMM frustrating Albirex, holding the defending SPL champions to a 1-1 draw, a result that now presents the Sailors a chance to reclaim the summit, albeit temporarily. 

Zulqarnaen and company already have first-hand experience of just what DPMM can do. 

The Sailors beat DPMM 3-1 in March in a match that marked the latter’s return to the SPL following the Covid-19 pandemic, but the fast-improving Bruneians secured a 3-3 draw with the Sailors in May.

The Sailors will undoubtedly keep that see-saw match in mind as an important reminder that there can be no room for complacency.

“To get all three points, we have to be very clinical with our chances, maintain high intensity throughout the match, and exploit any gaps in DPMM’s backline,” said Zulqarnaen.

“We are chasing Albirex for the title, so every game from now is like a final – and the objective for every match is the same: go out there and get three points.”

The Singapore international believes that the Sailors are on a positive trajectory, embracing Ranko’s tactical and physical demands, and it is a sentiment shared by custodian Zharfan Rohaizad.

“In the past two games, you can see on the pitch that the team is gelling very well with each other, in the new system and tactics that our coach wants. It has been terrific and I feel we are constantly improving after every training session,” said the 26-year-old.

Zharfan called on his teammates to leverage their recent impressive form and continue to drive towards the goal of leapfrogging Albirex to the SPL summit.

“We are training happy, we are gaining momentum from our past few games, and I’m confident we will continue to grow as a team and give our fans another good result at Bishan,” he said.

The Sailors now have two wins in two games under Ranko, turning in positive performances that showcased a renewed vigour in attack prowess as well as defensive solidity. And with eleven goals scored in the last two games, the team is brimming with confidence.

Zharfan, who recorded his fifth clean sheet of the campaign against the Young Lions last Friday, is grateful for hitting those numbers but asserts that the bigger picture will always be more important.

“For me, a clean sheet is the second most important thing – a bonus – the team always comes first and the main priority is to get the win in every match that we play,” said Zharfan.

“And to stay on track and continue to drive towards the SPL title.”