An emphatic midweek 5-1 win over Young Lions marked a return to winning ways, but a tougher test awaits the Lion City Sailors on Sunday evening (3 July) as they make the trip to the west to take on high-flying Tanjong Pagar United at the Jurong East Stadium.

Lying third in the eight-team Singapore Premier League (SPL) standings with six wins and four draws from 13 matches, the Jaguars have enjoyed a fine season and could prove to be a tough nut to crack. Hasrin Jailani’s side won their last three home matches, although they did suffer defeat on the road in a 1-0 reverse to Geylang International last Sunday (26 June).  

While the Sailors triumphed 6-1 at Jalan Besar the last time both sides met in April, Hassan Sunny does not believe in reading too much into that result, preferring instead to focus on the Sailors’ desire to evolve into an even better football team with each passing game. 

“Every opponent we play now is out there to beat us – there’s no doubt about that. When Coach Kim (Do-hoon) asked Mamat (Zulqarnaean Suzliman) how his former teammates at Young Lions are going to approach the game against us, he said they want to win,” said the 38-year-old, who was particularly heartened by the good shift that Saifullah Akbar put in against the Young Lions. 

The midfielder made his first start for the Sailors since March and has not had the best of times this season, but Saifullah’s commitment to improvement is exactly the approach to training that Hassan believes will help the team take things to the next level. 

“The amount of hard work you put in for the team overshadows whatever quality you have, in my opinion. Saifullah has not been playing that regularly this year, but given the chance, he gave everything and put in a lot of effort for the team. That’s what we want from each and every player, including myself,” stressed the Singapore national team custodian. 

“I’m sure Tanjong Pagar are going to make things difficult for us, but no disrespect to them – it’s our duty to focus on ourselves and how we’re going to play. If we go out there and make sure we play with the right mentality and attitude, I’m confident we’ll get the job done – especially if we take this approach in attack.”

The Sailors’ firepower is not in question. They are the SPL’s joint-top scoring team – alongside Albirex Niigata (S) – with 37 goals from 13 outings. What is perhaps more pertinent is the fact that the goals are spread across the team, with 11 different scorers so far this season. 

Shahdan Sulaiman is starting to make a habit of finding the target in recent matches, Maxime Lestienne has contributed good numbers from the wide areas and even Hafiz Nor has chipped in with the odd goal from his full-back position. 

“That shows the quality of the team – we don’t only depend on our no. 9 or no. 10. Even our defenders are scoring goals so that’s a good sign for us. But as I’ve said, we cannot be happy with what we have. There is still room for the team to improve even further,” said Hassan. 

And he has already spotted various areas with tremendous potential – in particular, the blossoming partnership between Maxime and Diego Lopes in the attacking third. 

“It’s so enjoyable to see two players of different qualities and backgrounds come together to play the way they did in such a short span of time. Their understanding on the pitch makes it look like they’ve grown up together and played for more than 10 years together,” said the veteran. 

“They fight every day, not in the bad way but more teasing each other about their respective weaknesses and making jokes. That’s actually very important in terms of their bonding and friendship. In this way, they’re pushing each other to become better players on the pitch.

“And I’m confident if both of them – and the rest of us – bring their best, we can get a result against Tanjong Pagar.”