The Lion City Sailors found the perfect balm to soothe the wounds of last week’s painful defeat to Albirex Niigata (S), securing a 3-0 win over Geylang International at Bishan Stadium on Wednesday (15 March) night.
With several key players, including Kodai Tanaka, and Nur Adam Abdullah and M Anumanthan, out of action due to injuries and suspension, the Sailors had to field a line-up that looked markedly different from the one that first walked out onto the pitch in their opening game of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) season last month.
New signing Manuel Herrera López – nicknamed Súper – was handed his club debut at the heart of defence barely a day after his transfer to the Sailors was confirmed. Adam Swandi was also handed his first start of the season, while Diego Lopes was deployed in the relatively unfamiliar role of a False 9 up top.
With three goals scored, three points in the bag, and a first clean sheet of the season – and this with a much-changed first XI – one would have expected Sailors head coach Risto Vidaković to be purring after the game.
Instead, the Serbian emphasised that there were still several aspects of the Sailors’ game that needed to be worked on.
“It was obviously a very important win for us, but we played a little nervous at times today,” Risto said. ”There were too many ups and downs, we did not have enough control of the game, and I think we need to improve a lot for sure.”
Making his first start of 2023, it was Adam who made the first real impact of the game, as he earned the Sailors a penalty in the 17th minute after being tripped in the box by Geylang goalkeeper Ridhwan Fikri.
Diego, however, failed to convert the resulting penalty, with Ridhwan redeeming himself by saving the spot-kick.
But it did not take long for Diego to make amends – just five minutes later, the Brazilian charged forward from midfield before laying the ball off for Hafiz Nor to side-foot it past Ridhwan and into the back of the net.
Diego then turned from provider to goalscorer on the stroke of half-time, as he calmly tapped home Christopher van Huizen’s cross from close range for his first goal of the season.
The Sailors made certain of the three points in the 70th minute, when substitute Abdul Rasaq Akeem benefited from Maxime Lestienne’s pass to fire a fierce shot into the bottom left corner just two minutes after coming on to replace Adam.
Risto’s calls for improvement were echoed by Man-of-the-Match Diego, who said: “We are happy with the win, but maybe not happy with the performance.
“We are disappointed with some things because we know we could have done better. We could have kept possession better, we could have made better passes, and we could have created more chances. But overall, I’m just happy that we got the three points.”
The Sailors were further boosted by the return of Zulqarnaen Suzliman and Haiqal Pashia – both of whom made their first appearances for the Sailors this season, albeit from the bench – but it was the performance of Súper that caught Risto’s eye.
“It is Súper’s first game, and he played the whole 90 minutes only because we don’t have a replacement for central defenders,” said Risto. “Anu is suspended, and so Súper came at the right moment.
“He had a very good game, even though he’s not at his best level yet because he didn’t have a pre-season, and he’s just started training with us. I expected less from him, but he played really well.”
With the win, the Sailors moved up to third in the table, just one point behind current league leaders Tampines Rovers. They will next take on Balestier Khalsa at the Bishan Stadium this Saturday (18 March) evening.