They had the opportunity to close the gap on Singapore Premier League (SPL) leaders Albirex Niigata (S), but the Lion City Sailors were held to a 3-3 draw by a dogged Brunei DPMM side at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday (13 May) evening. 

After the Sailors had done brilliantly to come from behind to take the lead twice, Andrei Voronkov netted a 89th-minute equaliser to seal his hat-trick and steal a share of the spoils for Adrian Pennock’s side. 

The result was enough for the Sailors to leapfrog Tampines Rovers – who face Tanjong Pagar United later today – into second in the nine-team SPL standings on goal difference. But it left Risto Vidaković’s men wondering what could have been.

“I cannot fault my players, they gave everything today. The team played a good game and this is football, sometimes unpredictable,” the Sailors head coach said after the match. 

“We have to look forward. We are playing good football. I can tell that the team is growing. We are improving and taking a step in the right direction.” 

Just like their 2-1 win over Geylang International last week, it was a case of déjà vu when the Sailors found themselves behind early in the game with Voronkov nodding home Hakeme Yazid’s corner after just four minutes. 

The opener sparked the Sailors into life and they nearly got an immediate response down the other end, but Bernie Ibini-Isei and Maxime Lestienne failed to put their chances away. 

It did not take long for the visitors to equalise, however, with Diego Lopes sweeping home Maxime’s cutback on 15 minutes. 

Diego would return the favour four minutes later as his laser-guided through pass picked out the run of Maxime, who proceeded to curl the ball beyond DPMM custodian Akmal Tursunbaev with trademark precision.

But DPMM levelled matters again on the half-hour mark. 

The lurking Voronkov was quickest to react after Sailors custodian Zharfan Rohaizad could only parry Abdul Azizi Rahman’s effort into his path. 

The Sailors would then retake the lead for a second time on the night just before the interval. 

It was the combination between Diego and Maxime yet again, with the former slipping the ball through to his Belgian teammate down the right with a smartly taken quick free-kick. 

Maxime still had work to do as he cut inside Angel Martinez to drill an unerring finish into Tursunbaev’s far post for his 10th goal of the season, with the goal allowed to stand following a VAR check. 

Praising the duo, Risto said: “They know and understand each other’s style of play and that makes it easy to have that kind of connection. Their teammates also have a good chemistry with the pair and that can only be a good thing for us.”

The second half was a stark contrast of the five-goal first half, with clear chances few and far between. 

Bernie and Shawal Anuar – a returning name to the Sailors starting line-up – both came close, but it was all the Sailors could muster after the restart. 

Just as the Sailors thought they had done enough for the win, Voronkov slammed home the loose ball at the death in the area to earn a point for the 2019 SPL champions. 

There was one final chance for the Sailors to steal a dramatic late victory shortly after, but Maxime could only drag his right-footed effort wide. 

Risto still refused to pin any blame on his players. 

“We should have closed the game with the chances we created. They (DPMM) didn’t do anything special in the second half, but got one chance and they scored,” said the Serbian. 

“We now need to rest and recover well, analyse this game and see what we can improve on.”

Midfielder Adam Swandi echoed Risto’s sentiments. 

“All of us came into this game looking to get the three points, so we were naturally disappointed to concede late on. There’s nothing we can do now, except to bounce back stronger in our next game,” added the 27-year-old. 

With Albirex up next in a huge clash at Bishan Stadium on Sunday (21 May), Adam has his eyes firmly set on taking down his former employers. 

“Albirex are comfortable at the top and we will go into this with everything we have,” he declared.

“A win against DPMM would have set the stage nicely for this game, but we are definitely gunning for the three points to show that we mean business.”