SINGAPORE – With each emphatic goal, Lion City Sailors chipped away the doubts surrounding their Singapore Premier League (SPL) title credentials, as they thumped Balestier Khalsa 7-1 on Saturday (Nov 7).
After an inconsistent run of results since they made headlines in February by privatising, Aurelio Vidmar’s men produced a resounding victory to leapfrog the Tigers and move to second on goal difference with 11 points from seven matches.
Crucially, they have a game in hand on Tampines Rovers, who lead the standings on 16 points but were left rueing their 1-1 draw against 10-man Geylang International at Our Tampines Hub in Saturday’s other clash.
There are only 14 rounds of fixtures in this season’s shortened SPL due to the coronavirus pandemic and the Sailors will unlikely face opponents as agreeable as Marko Kraljevic’s side was at the Bishan Stadium.
With no fans in the grounds, the Serb’s shouts of “too easy!” were clearly audible and his frustrations were well-founded.
It took just 10 minutes for Stipe Plazibat to head in Shahdan Sulaiman’s free-kick and by half-time the hosts were up by five goals. The excellent Plazibat had his hat-trick alongside two assists for Song Ui-young and Saifullah Akbar.
The Tigers defence, missing the towering presence of centre-back Ensar Brunscevic who was out with a knee injury, conceded another two more after the interval from efforts by Sailors’ Tajeli Salamat and Adam Swandi with forward Kristijan Krajcek’s strike offering little consolation.
Calling it a “fantastic performance”, Vidmar said: “I’m extremely pleased with the result. We had many great players tonight.
“We were playing our third game in seven days, and we kept pushing the intensity. And it is going to be like this for the rest of the season – play, recover and get ready.
“Even if the results haven’t always gone our way, we have been consistent with the way we are trying to play attacking football. If we do our jobs properly, everything will come together like they did tonight.”
The players and officials observed a minute of silence for former Singapore international Salim Moin, who died late Friday night after a heart attack. He was 59.
Salim previously coached the national Under-18s and had coaching stints at SPL clubs Gombak United, Balestier, Woodlands Wellington, Tampines and Hougang United.
Plazibat, a former Hougang striker, paid tribute and dedicated his treble to his former assistant coach. He said: “I was so shocked and sad to hear the news. Coach Salim was a very nice guy who gave good advice on and off the pitch. He had an eye for detail and knew when to say the right things to calm down a nervous player.”
As for the title race, Plazibat added: “We always felt we are in it. Luck was not on our side when we lost to Albirex and drew with Hougang, but we always believed we would bounce back.
“We have good momentum now to keep pushing and putting pressure on the leaders. Every team will drop points with this schedule, but I’m very confident our fitness help us come through on top.”
The 2020 SPL is set for one of the tightest title race in recent years. While leaders Tampines remain the team to beat, recent results have shown that sides below them can be potential banana skins.
The Sailors produced a statement victory when they needed it most. If they can beat Tanjong Pagar on Friday (Nov 13) for their first back-to-back wins this term, it could prove invaluable mentally.
They also look to have the depth to cope with seven games in 23 days and mount a serious challenge. Mark Dec 2 on your calendars, because the Sailors-Stags game could be turn out to be the title decider.
Meanwhile Albirex, who are behind the Sailors on goal difference but with a game in hand, also lurk and can always be counted on to run opponents to the ground with their outstanding fitness – late goals have already contributed to four points for them so far.