The Lion City Sailors defeated nine-man Tanjong Pagar United 4-1 in a tightly-contested encounter at the Bishan Stadium on Saturday (21 October) to maintain their perfect start in the Singapore Cup.

The team remained top in Group B with six points, three more than second-placed Hougang United, who the Sailors will face in the third and final group stage match on 25 November.  

Aleksandar Ranković’s charges put in a much-improved second-half performance to secure the three points, with second-half substitute Shawal Anuar putting the finishing touches with a hat-trick, the first of his professional career. 

Ranko credited his team for upping their intensity in the second half.

“In the second half, we were refreshed and when we moved the ball fast, then we could defeat them by creating a lot of chances,” he said.

“Shawal’s impact was really big, he did what he came on to do, and he’s been in great form in the last week too, also scoring for the national team.”

The 32-year-old Shawal had returned from the latest international break with a goal in Singapore’s 1-0 victory over Guam in the second leg of their first-round 2026 World Cup qualifiers just four days earlier.

The Sailors were handed a perfect start when, just 10 minutes in, Jaguars defender Shakir Hamzah caught Richairo Živković inside the box.

After a three-minute delay which included a video assistant referee (VAR) check, Brazilian midfielder Diego Lopes sent Tanjong Pagar keeper Kenji Rusydi the wrong way from the spot to put the Sailors 1-0 up.

In the 27th minute, Tanjong Pagar made it 1-1 after a long throw from Akram Azman was not cleared and Sailors old boy Naqiuddin Eunos slotted the ball into the bottom corner.

The Sailors were unable to find a breakthrough in the rest of the first half, with efforts from Diego and Maxime Lestienne going wide.

Tanjong Pagar was then reduced to ten men with Blake Ricciuto being sent off for a second bookable offence in the 48th minute after a late challenge on Diego, before Naqiuddin fluffed his lines in front of goal three minutes later.

The Sailors finally found a way through the stubborn Tanjong Pagar backline in the 68th minute, when Maxime found substitute Adam Swandi on the right, whose cross was converted by Shawal.

With the team’s renewed confidence, Shawal then scored his second 10 minutes later when Richi played an early ball across goal, and Maxime unselfishly laid it off for the no. 7 to finish the move.

Tanjong Pagar then finished the night with nine men with Tajeli Salamat getting a straight red for a cynical challenge on Richi, before Shawal took home the match ball by rolling the ball into an empty net after Kenji spilled Adam’s shot four minutes into stoppage time.

“I’m happy with my performance today, it was my responsibility to put the ball into the net and I had to do my job,” said the hat-trick hero, who has now netted 13 goals in all competitions for the Sailors. 

The Sailors will look to carry their winning momentum to South Korea as they take on Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in their Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) 2023/24 Group F clash on Wednesday.

And Ranko made it clear that there will be no time to celebrate Saturday’s win.

“We’re going on a long trip there on Sunday (22 October) morning, then we’ll see how the boys recover. Thankfully we have two days for that,” Ranko said.

“And I hope this post-match interview isn’t going to be long, because I have to go home and pack!”