The Lion City Sailors faced frustration in their bid to retain their Singapore Premier League (SPL) crown on Saturday (16 July) evening, as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Geylang International at Our Tampines Hub (OTH). 

The Sailors’ lead at the top of the SPL standings has now whittled down to five points, with second-placed Albirex Niigata (S) closing the gap, winning 4-1 against Balestier Khalsa in a concurrent game on the night. 

Šime Žužul’s penalty opener for the Eagles was quickly cancelled out by Shahdan Sulaiman’s long-range strike, but the Sailors could not find the breakthrough in the second half at OTH and were forced to settle for a point. 

While acknowledging his disappointment with recent results, Sailors Head Coach Kim Do-hoon asserted that he retains confidence in his players and believes this run is more a blip than anything else. 

“The boys performed okay today, they did what we prepared for in training, but we perhaps didn’t do well enough on this artificial pitch and didn’t help ourselves by conceding first,” said the 51-year-old.  

“We’re not happy with the result, but it’s probably one of those moments in the season (where a team struggles a bit for form). I’m sure we can shake it off and pick things up again in the next game.”

Coming into this on the back of a three-match winning run, Geylang were brimming with confidence and kept the Sailors largely at bay until the 27th minute when Diego Lopes somehow nodded wide from close range after Song Ui-young had flicked on Shahdan’s corner. 

The hosts thought they had opened the scoring nine minutes later when Hazzuwan Halim prodded in after Khairul Hairie’s deflected ball floated into his path, but the goal was ruled out for offside. 

Noor Ali’s charges did eventually break the deadlock on 43 minutes, with Žužul converting from the spot after Hazzuwan was adjudged to have been tripped in the area by Zulqarnaen Suzliman. 

However, the Sailors rallied and equalised three minutes into first-half injury time, with Hafiz Nor teeing Shahdan up for a 25-yard shot that took a touch off Abdil Qaiyyim before deceiving Zaiful Nizam in the Geylang goal. 

Kim’s men carried that momentum into the second half, but front man Kim Shin-wook failed to find the target with a couple of headers, while Song drew a sprawling save from Zaiful with a fierce left-footed strike. 

At the other end, Sailors custodian Hassan Sunny had to stand up strong to deny Hazzuwan in a one-on-one opportunity in the 68th minute to keep the score level. 

With Haiqal Pashia and Gabriel Quak introduced into the fray to add attacking impetus, the Sailors threatened to score in the final 10 minutes but were thwarted by a combination of poor finishing and solid last-ditch defending by Geylang. 

The draw was perhaps a fair reflection of the game as the Sailors look to reflect and regroup, before entertaining Tampines Rovers at Jalan Besar Stadium next Sunday (24 July). 

“I don’t want to point fingers at individuals. All I can say is we just have to get back to playing the LCS way,” said Coach Kim. 

“In the next game, we’re going to fight for the win while playing the style of football that we aspire to play.”