On paper, it was expected to be a closely-fought encounter between last season’s Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions Albirex Niigata (S) and their closest challengers, the Lion City Sailors.

But after 90-odd minutes at the Bishan Stadium on Sunday (June 23) evening, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the balance of power had decisively shifted in favour of the Sailors.

The final score? An incredible 7-1 to the Sailors.

It was a result that maintained the Sailors’ 100% start to the 2024/25 SPL campaign, and propelled them to the top of the table, two points ahead of BG Tampines Rovers.

There were six different goal scorers on display for Aleksandar Ranković’s side on the night, with perhaps the most noteworthy being new signing Lennart Thy, who scored his first goal for the Sailors.

Bart Ramselaar netted a brace, while reigning SPL Player of the Year Maxime Lestienne, Shawal Anuar, Bailey Wright, and Song Uiyoung were also on target. Albirex’s only goal came via a first-half strike from Shuhei Hoshino.

Ranko acknowledged that his team deserves the praise they have received for their impressive victory, but believes they could have scored even more.

“The way we started the match, and the way we finished, there was only one team that deserved the win and that was us,” the Serb said after the match.

“That was something we were looking for. Our attackers have a job to score, but I’m very happy if everybody else can contribute too. But like the rest of the team, we agree that we had the chances to score more today.”

Bailey also admitted to feeling frustrated about conceding the goal they did.

“Albirex are a good side, and I think it goes to show tonight that we can do what we set out to do despite not being at our best,” said the 31-year-old, who returned to the Sailors side from a one-match suspension.

“We could have scored more, and I thought the goal we conceded was offside. For me, that’s frustrating because as a defender, you want the clean sheet. Although we won, the cherry on top would have been a 7-0 win, but 7-1 shows that we still have areas to work on.”

The Sailors dominated proceedings from the start, opening the scoring after just nine minutes through Shawal, who has now found the net in each of his five appearances this season.

Shawal’s goal was reminiscent of the one he scored against Tottenham Hotspur in the Tiger Cup encounter in July last year, with the 33-year-old ghosting in behind the Albirex defence to turn home a pinpoint cross from Maxime.

The Singapore international nearly added to his tally on 16 minutes, but he somehow put his effort wide after being teed up in the box by Bart.

Five minutes later, Albirex equalised through Hoshino, who appeared to be in an offside position when he headed home Arshad Shamim’s cross from the right.

However, that proved to be a minor blip in the Sailors’ quest for victory as Lennart restored the hosts’ advantage shortly after the half-hour mark.

After being slipped through by Bart, Lennart took a touch before finishing clinically into Hassan Sunny’s far corner for his first goal in Sailors colours.

The Sailors picked up right where they left off after the break, with Bailey extending their lead to 3-1 in the 54th minute. The Australian defender pounced on a loose ball after Albirex failed to clear their lines, before unleashing a sweetly-struck left-footed volley into the bottom corner.

And the goals didn’t stop there.

Song, who had replaced the injured Shawal in the first half, expertly guided home Obren Kljajić’s cross on the hour mark. Four minutes later, Bart coolly fired the ball into the bottom corner.

Maxime then produced a moment of magic in the 68th minute, firing an unstoppable left-footed rocket into the top corner which left Hassan grasping at air for the Sailors’ sixth goal.

Bart then completed the scoring seven minutes from time, sweeping home substitute Hafiz Nor’s cutback for his second goal of the night and fourth of the season.

Reflecting on his two-goal performance, Bart, who was named Man of the Match, said, “I’m very happy to have been able to help the team today. We could have scored four or five goals in the first half, but we made it difficult for ourselves at 2-1. In the second half, we played really well, and the win was a reward for us.”

Next up for the Sailors is a crucial match against a resilient Geylang International on Friday (28 June). While the Eagles are unbeaten so far this season, Bart is confident that the Sailors will rise to the challenge and secure all three points against Mohd Noor Ali’s charges.

“I’m looking forward to the game, which will be a tough one, of course. They play good football and score a lot of goals, but they also concede, so we are confident,” the 27-year-old said.