Kim Do-hoon’s men came away from Our Tampines Hub (OTH) on Tuesday night (21 September) with a thumping 6-1 win over Tampines Rovers, sending a clear statement of intent – the Lion City Sailors’ Singapore Premier League (SPL) title challenge is not over just yet.
The handsome victory narrowed the gap between them and leaders Albirex Niigata (S) to just two points going into the final two rounds of games.
Sailors’ attacker Song Ui-young was pleased with the team’s professional display against the Stags and he urged his comrades to keep their heads in the game in what is the final stretch of the SPL season.
“Yes, it was such an important win to keep us in the race for the title. You can see how much desire the team has to become champions,” said the 27-year-old. “Now we must keep our focus to win our last two games and see whether that’s enough for us to win the trophy.”
Just four days ago, the Sailors were gutted by a last-gasp Albirex equaliser in a 1-1 draw between the two sides that swung the title pendulum the White Swans’ way. In Hariss Harun’s words, that setback “took a lot out of the team physically and psychologically”.
The Sailors had to recover fast for another tough battle against last season’s runner-ups Tampines and at OTH, they did exactly that.
The match could have gone either way after Haiqal Pashia’s close-range finish just before half time was cancelled out by Hariss’s unfortunate own goal in the 51st minute. But instead of freezing, the Sailors rose to the challenge and blew the Stags out of the water with a five-goal blitz – in just 23 minutes.
Gabriel Quak’s thumping volley in the 56th minute put the Sailors back in front and gave them the belief to go for the kill. Pushing forward in numbers, Song and Faris Ramli reaped the dividends as they benefited from Tampines defensive lapses to put their side 4-1 up by the 73rd minute.
Nur Adam Abdullah’s cross was then scuffed into his own net by Tampines captain Daniel Bennett before Song applied the finishing touch to a lethal counter-attacking move to complete the rout with 11 minutes to go.
The avalanche of goals meant the Sailors now hold a better goal difference than Albirex (32 as compared to the White Swans’ 31) and that could well prove to be the deciding factor for the title – should both teams finish level on points after 21 matches.
Reflecting on the team’s ruthless second-half display, Song said that this is the least they could do for their faithful supporters who made the trip to the East on a weekday night.
“Even though we were winning, we cannot stop running and fighting. We’ve to do our best and score as many as we can until the final whistle,” elaborated the newly-minted Singaporean.
“That’s what Coach Kim ordered us to do… These goals are for the fans who always give us their strongest support and make the effort to travel to watch us wherever we play.”
Song’s brace against Tampines meant he is finally back on the goal trail after he last netted a brace in a 5-0 win over Tanjong Pagar United back in March. It also brought extra significance as those were his first goals as a Singaporean since he was granted citizenship on 20 August.
Song is well-respected by the fans for his dedication and willingness to sacrifice for the cause. Those qualities have enabled him to shine in the Sailors’ last couple of matches, as he filled the void left by the injured Stipe Plazibat with minimal fuss and maximum efficiency.
“I played many games as a false nine in the 2018 season for Home United, but as an out-and-out no. 9 I cannot remember when was the last time!” he said, chuckling.
“Of course it’s different as compared to playing in midfield, so I have to prepare and focus more, but I’ll always do my job in whatever role the coach gives me because I love this team.
“It’s very meaningful for me to score as a Singaporean now and I want to continue to enjoy this feeling – to score and help my team to victory.”
The victory over the Stags meant the Sailors have sealed qualification to the 2022 AFC Champions League (ACL) group stages by virtue of finishing as this season’s best-placed local team.
The prospect of testing their wits against some of Asia’s best is one that Song is looking forward to, but he is keeping his gaze on the more immediate task at hand – to help the Sailors win their first-ever SPL title.
The Sailors will return to OTH on Sunday (26 Sep) to face Geylang International in their penultimate game of the season – two days after Albirex host Tampines at the Jurong East Stadium.
“It’s a big motivation for us to be competing at the highest level next season. We’ve got to be stronger, faster physically and mentally to get good results in this competition,” said Song.
“While we’ve achieved our target to reach the ACL, we will not give up on this chase for the title. We’ve been working so hard all season for this objective and it’s not over until it’s over. Even if Albirex wins on Friday, we’ll still have to go all out to beat Geylang.”