The absence of several players – either out injured or unavailable – and Head Coach Yeong Sheau Shyan, who is away on personal matters, did not halt the Lion City Sailors Women’s charge towards the Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) title. 

Despite being able to name only two substitutes in a matchday squad managed by Izz Haziq, the defending WPL champions continued their unbeaten streak in the 2023 season with a 1-0 win over Still Aerion FC on Saturday (19 August) at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium. 

The win extended the Sailors Women’s lead at the top of the WPL to seven points, before nearest challengers Albirex Niigata (S) take on Balestier Khalsa on Sunday (20 August).

Josephine Ang’s third goal of the season was enough to help her side gain victory. 

At the other end of the pitch Munirah Mohamad and Nur Umairah Hamdan held the fort down in the backline in the absence of skipper Ernie Sulastri Sontaril, with the experienced Beatrice Tan helping to ensure yet another clean sheet. 

It took only nine minutes for the Sailors to go ahead. Nur Syazwani Ruzi’s well-weighted cut back from the right wing fell perfectly for Josephine, whose clinical finish gave the opposition keeper no chance.

The 16-year-old came close to bagging her second goal in the 33rd minute. The opportunity came from yet another cut back, this time from the speedy Miray Altun, but Josephine’s left-footed shot hit the side netting.

Sailors’ goalkeeper Beatrice, who had a relatively quiet first half of football, was tested just before half-time by Carmen Calisto. With three defenders on her tail, the Aerion forward rushed her shot that was easily gathered by Beatrice in the Sailors goal. 

The first of two substitutions was made in the 70th minute when Sara Hayduchok came on to make her Sailors debut and the new signing helped the team see out a win, in which they chalked up a 10th clean sheet in 11 games in 2023. 

“It was a lot of fun! I’m excited to continue learning from everyone. It’s a really unique experience for me to transfer to another club in mid-season,” she said. “I think I need to work on my versatility and on adjusting to the style of play. There are so many veterans here who are willing to teach me and I’m making full use of that.”

Sara was not the only substitute who made waves under the floodlights on Saturday night. Goalkeeper Noor Kusumawati (Wati), usually commanding the backline from between the sticks, this time had to do her part for the team in the opposition penalty box. 

The 33-year-old came on as a forward to roaring cheers from the Choa Chu Kang stands. 

The first and only other time Wati swapped her goalkeeping kit for an outfield jersey was on 21st October 2022 against Thai outfit, Phranakorn FC in the Women’s Football Championship. Back then, Sheau Shyan said: “I have to praise Wati. She has never played outfield in a match before, but she is willing to do it for the team and didn’t look out of place at all.”

The Singapore and Sailors number one was given eight minutes in total, with the three extra minutes courtesy of the fourth official. 

“It was hard but it was fun at the same time. I guess it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity as a goalkeeper! I know now how the players feel, it’s really hard to score,” said Wati. “Thank God it was only eight minutes because I don’t think I can last for 45-90 minutes.”

The Sailors are due to face sixth-placed Tampines Rovers on Sunday (27 Aug). Set to kick off at 5pm at Choa Chu Kang, Sara is looking forward to meeting old friends from across the other side of the pitch.

“What’s really cool about this league is despite everyone being very competitive and wanting to win each match and ultimately the league, there are several friends between teams,” gushed the ex-Tampines defender.

“I look forward to seeing my friends but I also look forward to competing. I think it makes us better footballers and that’s what we want for women’s football in Singapore.”