It is still early days, but the Lion City Sailors’ 2024/25 campaign could not have gotten off to a better start.

Having started the season by beating Albirex Niigata (S) to lift the Singapore Premier League (SPL) Community Shield, the Sailors have gone on to win their first three league matches, and are now second in the table on nine points – just one behind BG Tampines Rovers, who have played a game more.

While the fortunes of Aleksandar Ranković’s side appear to be on the rise, the opposite seems to be true for defending SPL champions Albirex. The White Swans’ rejigged squad, now comprising a predominantly local roster, has begun the season in uncharacteristically poor form, with just one win and three defeats from their first four games.

Nonetheless, Sailors defender Christopher van Huizen insists his side cannot afford to be complacent when the two teams meet again this Sunday (23 June) at Bishan Stadium. 

“I know there are people saying they’re not the Albirex of old, but we shouldn’t see it that way. Look at the game against Young Lions (which the Sailors won 3-1 in May) – they posed a real threat to us as well. If we start taking teams for granted and slack off, that’s when these games will cost us,” emphasised the 31-year-old.

“We want to be a consistent team that keeps winning matches, so the key is to focus on ourselves and keep our mindset firmly on how to play even better as a team.” 

The Sailors’ drive for perfection and excellence is also fuelled by past disappointments – in particular, their failure to land the SPL title last season.

And Chris revealed that the team is determined not to let history repeat itself this year.

“It may sound cliché, but we’re going all out in every game because we know how important every point is. Personally, I go into every game with the mindset that I want to make amends for last season. The silly points that we dropped then, and the two or three matches where we weren’t switched on – that proved to be the difference in the title race and it still hurts,” he reflected. 

“We worked so hard but in the end, we didn’t achieve our objective of winning the league. So, we’re going to push even harder this year, and we’re not going to let it slip away from us this time.”

Having featured prominently and impressed in every minute of the Sailors’ three SPL matches so far, Chris recognises that he has made a strong start to the season. This marks a significant turnaround from his pre-season, which was marred by an injury that hindered his progress.

“It means a lot to me (to be starting regularly) because it didn’t go that well for me in the initial part of pre-season,” the full-back admitted. “I guess I pushed too hard after coming back from a two-month break and got injured. But the pre-season trip to Thailand helped me get back up to speed, and I feel I’m now playing to the team’s strengths.”

With the Sailors playing well and winning matches, Chris acknowledges that the resilience and spirit within the team is as strong as it has ever been – qualities that he believes will help them go all the way in the title race this year.

“Of course, it took a bit of time for the newer boys like Toni (Datković) and Bart (Ramselaar) to adapt to us and how the dressing room is like,” said Chris. “But it didn’t take that long – I felt they really grew with us and we’re all now having fun together. 

“We’re like one big family, and I’m sure these good vibes will help us throughout the season. We’re going to fight for one another and make sure we achieve success together.”