It was a very positive return to competitive football for the Lion City Sailors, as we beat Geylang International 4-0 at the Bishan Stadium in our first match of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) restart on Sunday evening.

Debutant Stipe Plazibat opened the scoring for us in the eighth minute, as he poked home a loose ball from close range after Geylang failed to clear Tajeli Salamat’s header from a corner.

The Eagles were then reduced to 10 men at the stroke of half-time, after our young midfielder Arshad Shamim was brought down in the box by Geylang goalkeeper Zainol Gulam, who received his marching orders for the challenge.

Our midfield maestro Song Ui-Young stepped up and confidently dispatched the resulting penalty to give us a two goal lead, and we never looked back from there.

Stipe then crowned his dream debut with his second goal of the night in the 84th minute, as he coolly side-footed Gabriel Quak’s unselfish cutback into a near-unguarded net, before veteran Shahril Ishak put the icing on the cake for the Sailors in the 90th minute with a simple tap-in for our fourth goal.

Naturally, Sailors head coach Aurelio Vidmar was delighted with how his charges performed against a robust and determined Geylang side, and believes this victory – our first in the SPL – will give everyone a huge lift for the remainder of the season.

“I’m of course very happy with the win and the clean sheet, and I think that this result will give everyone a lot of confidence as we go through the season,” said Aurelio.

“I think even after seven months without competitive football (due to Covid-19), we’re in reasonably good physical condition. And we showed that here at the Bishan Stadium, even though they (Geylang) had 10 men.

“We were able to control (the game) and make some good actions going forward, and I’m very pleased with the way we stayed disciplined throughout the 90 minutes. Being able to score four goals was also very positive for the group.”

Aurelio also had words of praise for new signing Stipe, who currently leads the SPL goalscoring chart with seven goals.

“Scoring two goals on his debut was fantastic,” Aurelio said of Stipe. “We all know what he’s capable of. He’s a top goalscorer, and he continued to prove that again tonight. But he also worked hard to make good chances for himself and for others, so I’m very pleased with his overall performance.”

Speaking about his debut, Stipe expressed his joy at having gotten his Sailors career off to a winning start. The 31-year-old said: “It feels great to get the victory, especially after we’ve waited so long to play again. I’m really glad that we started with a strong performance, and of course, scoring is just the cherry on top.

“We played very well, although we still have room for improvement in certain areas. But, for a first match after so long, I am satisfied with how we reacted. It was very important that we got the win, because we have high hopes for this season and it was crucial to take all three points.”

Apart from Stipe, young playmaker Saifullah Akbar also made his debut for the Sailors on Sunday, and Aurelio claims the 21-year-old should be happy with his performance.

“Saifullah was making his first start for us, and I thought he was very serviceable throughout the time he was on the pitch,” Aurelio explained. “I can say that both he and Arshad performed well and gave us a lot of good moments, especially in the first-half.”

Despite the convincing victory over Geylang, Aurelio knows that there is still work to be done in order for us to achieve our goals this season. But the Australian tactician is confident that we will only get better with more matches under our belt.

“I thought some of our movement up front was very good, but we just kind of overcooked the ball on a couple of occasions when we got into really good areas,” Aurelio reflected.

“The weight of passing was a bit sloppy when we had good opportunities to get behind the (Geylang) defence. But these are the things that will happen after seven months of no football. We were a little bit rusty, and we’ve probably seen that from the first round from all the teams that have played, but that will improve over the next three weeks after playing more matches.”

The Sailors move up to sixth in the table, and will next play Albirex Niigata (S) this Saturday (Oct 24), 5.30pm, at the Jurong East Stadium.