It was a mixed bag of results for the Sailors over the past week as they followed up a 5-0 thrashing of Young Lions with a 1-1 draw against rivals Hougang United.
Here, we round up the three major talking points from the two matches, as Aurelio Vidmar’s charges continue to hunt down the early pacesetters in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).
Stronger in the second half
It is becoming a trend now – the Sailors tend to put up a show in the second half. We saw that when they came from two goals down at half time to draw level, before losing to an injury-time goal against Albirex Niigata (S) some two weeks ago.
Against the Young Lions, it was a similar story: the team struggled to find rhythm in the first half, as they were kept at bay by a highly-motivated side fresh off their first win of the season. After the break, the Sailors ramped up the intensity and reaped the full dividends.
Gabriel Quak started the ball rolling by forcing an own goal from Jacob Mahler through some direct play, before substitute Adam Swandi doubled the lead with a fine header. Stipe Plazibat then grabbed himself a brace and proceeded to tee up Gabriel to apply the coup de grace.
Against Hougang, the Sailors struggled to break down a defensive side which deployed a five-man defence and was content to soak-and-strike. Trailing 1-0 at half time, the team once again found their groove immediately after the restart. There was intent and more urgency in their play, and Shahdan Sulaiman soon drew the Sailors level with a crisp long-range drive. Aurelio’s charges kept going in the dying stages and could have won the game, but for the intervention of Anders Aplin, with the Hougang defender managing to clear Faizal Roslan’s shot off the line.
While it is impressive that the Sailors seem to get stronger in the latter stages, it is imperative that they start games equally well to accumulate more points in this truncated season.
The growing influence of Gabriel and Shahdan
It has taken a while, but it is now clear why the Sailors have swooped to recruit the likes of Gabriel and Shahdan for their ambitious project. They bring a touch of class to the team with their years of experience and know-how – especially after coming back from their respective overseas stints in the Thai League and Malaysia Super League.
Included in the starting eleven for the first time since the SPL restart, Gabriel put up a scintillating all-round display against the Young Lions to repay Coach Aurelio’s faith. Apart from his goal involvements, the winger was also one of the most hardworking players on the pitch – constantly making darting runs in from the right and occasionally drifting to the opposite flank to carve out opportunities for his teammates.
Meanwhile Shahdan returned to the line-up against Hougang after recovering from injury and immediately showed why he is likely to be one of the first names on the teamsheet. The creative playmaker kept things ticking in the middle of the park and was always on the lookout for the killer pass. Known for his dead-ball prowess, he showed that he can be similarly lethal with his magical right foot from open play. With no one closing him down, the 32-year-old unleashed a rasping 30-yard drive that left Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin grasping at thin air for the equaliser. He almost replicated that feat from a similar range later in the game, but it was turned around the post. Shahdan ended the night with six shots, the most by any player on the night – showing the massive influence he had on the game.
Adam’s looking fine and pushing for a start
After a horrific knee ligament injury, it was always the plan for Adam Swandi to ease his way back into the team. But with each passing game, the case for the skilful attacker to be a starter gets even stronger.
Coming on as a substitute for all four Sailors matches since the restart, the 24-year-old is gradually rediscovering his confidence. The smile is definitely back on his face.
The Young Lions game was undoubtedly a big breakthrough for Adam as he became the first player to notch a goal and an assist off the bench this season. His incisive runs down the left and the swagger in beating opponents with his trickery were a real treat– bringing back fond memories when he broke out as a 15/16-year-old in the 2011 and 2012 Lion City Cups. What perhaps went under the radar was that he came up directly against his nemesis Irfan Najeeb – whose knee-high challenge resulted in his long layoff – and Adam was unfazed by it.
While his contributions against Hougang were not as significant, he still brought good energy and width to cause a few concerns in the Cheetahs’ backline. With performances like these, Adam is surely giving coach Aurelio a welcome selection headache.