There was no letting up for the Lion City Sailors after their Asian Football Confederation Champions League (AFC) sojourn, with three Singapore Premier League (SPL) matches lined up in the month of May.
The champions edged Hougang United 4-3 and Geylang International 1-0, before trouncing Tampines Rovers 4-0 to equal the club record of six successive SPL wins – first achieved between April to May 2021.
As the team goes off for a much-needed break before their next SPL match on 19th June, we look back on the three major talking points from their three successful outings this month.
Head Coach’s focus has had a tangible Kim-pact on the Sailors
Ever since the Sailors returned from the ACL, Head Coach Kim Do-hoon has emphasised that the team must show further improvement in their game-play and maintain the same level of intensity even in the SPL. The 2020 ACL winner remains adamant that his charges cannot afford to be complacent despite having already demonstrated that they can be competitive against Asia’s big boys.
The Sailors showed up in their first post-ACL match against Hougang with an enterprising attacking performance that cut the Cheetahs’ defence up at will, but proceeded to put in a flat display against Geylang and were perhaps lucky to get the three points against the Eagles.
That prompted Coach Kim to dish out some harsh words – words that stung – and the players responded and reaffirmed their commitment to the cause with a wonderful all-round display against Tampines. It was a tough task against one of the league’s most in-form sides, but the Sailors applied whatever they worked on in training to tear the Stags apart with some well-constructed, slick moves.
His words and focus on continual development have certainly had a tangible impact on the team, and fans can be assured the Sailors will continue in the same relentless manner when they return to the SPL.
Maxime’s proving he’s the real deal
His quality was never in doubt from the day he signed, and the scary thing is, Maxime seems like he’s just getting started.
There were some quizzical looks from the fraternity when Maxime was sparingly used in the first SPL round, but Coach Kim and the coaching setup clearly knew what they were doing – slowly bedding him in and allowing him time to acclimatise to the weather and football in Singapore. The former PSV Eindhoven man has not looked back since returning from the ACL, starting and making a goal contribution in all three games.
After a Man-of-the-Match display against Hougang in which he produced one goal and one assist, he then laid on Diego Lopes’s matchwinner against Geylang before yet another goal and assist to destroy Tampines. Stats and thrilling displays aside, his European experience has also been integral to the team’s development with the likes of Haiqal Pashia learning from Maxime as he grows into a more accomplished player.
Maxime’s rise mirrors that of Diego, who has now firmly established himself in the first eleven and appears to be at the heart of every good Sailors’ move. With the two dovetailing well and showing an uncanny chemistry on the pitch, there is surely more for Sailors fans to savour in months ahead.
A solid core making the difference
The numbers tell a story: the Sailors kept one clean sheet in Kim’s first 10 SPL matches in charge in 2021, but this season they have five shutouts to their name in the same number of games.
It all appears to stem from a solid core that makes the team so difficult to break down. Having played in midfield for virtually his whole career, Hariss Harun has now grown into his new role and is clearly a first-choice centre-back option for both club and country. Having played every minute for the Sailors in both the SPL and ACL, the indefatigable skipper is often exactly where the team needs him, either putting his body on the line or sweeping up the danger as the last line of defence.
The blossoming partnership between Hariss and Pedro Henrique is, of course, another reason why the Sailors are thriving, with the latter now showing exactly why the club went all out to secure a left-footed centre-back who is both strong in the challenge and comfortable on the ball.
Behind the dominant pair is Hassan Sunny who seems to age like fine wine. His superb command of the penalty area has seen him chalk up four consecutive clean sheets for the first time since a six-match streak in August 2010.
With a solid defensive core in place and in form, the Sailors have a sturdy platform from which to launch a charge for the SPL title when the league resumes in June.