Football: Geylang International hand champions Lion City Sailors a shock defeat

Geylang International's players celebrating after Vincent Bezecourt (second from right) scored a goal against the Lion City Sailors in the Singapore Premier League match held at Our Tampines Hub on March 4, 2022.
ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE- The Lion City Sailors suffered their first defeat of the season and the first in 20 league matches after a shock 1-0 loss to Geylang International in a Singapore Premier League (SPL) match on Friday (March 4) evening.

The Sailors, who were reduced to 10 men in the first half, had been on a club record 19-match unbeaten run. Their last defeat came on March 20 last year in a 3-1 loss to Hougang United.

Their defeat on Friday in front of 978 fans at the Our Tampines Hub also brought an end to another incredible record - since March 2020, they had scored in 34 consecutive league matches, but the Eagles have now earned the distinction of being the first to stop them from finding the net.

This loss will also sting for Sailors coach Kim Do-hoon, as it was his first defeat in Singapore football. Since replacing Australian Aurelio Vidmar midway through the campaign last June, the South Korean had gone 12 matches unbeaten as Sailors coach.

While the Eagles, who were playing their first match of the campaign, put in a performance worthy of sinking the champions, the Sailors will rue their decision to rotate their squad.

The Sailors made four changes to the starting line-up that saw off Hougang 3-1 in their season opener with goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, midfielder Adam Swandi and attackers Amiruldin Asraf and Faris Ramli all making their first starts of the league campaign.

Singapore national team players Shahdan Sulaiman, Hami Syahin, Hassan Sunny and South Korean forward Kim Shin-wook, who has scored three goals in two competitive matches, were named on the bench, along with foreign imports Maxime Lestienne and Diego Lopes.

In their absence, it was Geylang's foreigner Vincent Bezecourt who made the difference with the only goal of the match.

In the ninth minute, the Frenchman picked up the ball from just outside the box and unleashed a fierce drive that went past Izwan and into the bottom corner of the goal. It was the third straight domestic match, including the Community Shield, in which the Sailors had conceded first in the opening 15 minutes.

In the 34th minute, Bezecourt made another telling contribution which ended with Sailors' Brazilian centreback Pedro Henrique receiving his marching orders. From his own half, Bezecourt played a long ball to release striker Sime Zuzul who just about won a foot race with Henrique. The Brazilian centreback was then adjudged to have tripped Zuzul and received a straight red.

The Sailors threw on their star men in the second half as Shin-wook, Lopes and Lestienne entered the fray in search of an equaliser.

In the 66th minute, Lopes and Lestienne almost combined for a goal but Lopes' shot from inside the box produced a stellar save from Geylang goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.

But even with their star men on, the Sailors struggled to create clear chances to trouble the Eagles. For all the money that the Sailors have spent on assembling a star-studded squad, the Eagles have showed that teams in the SPL are capable of matching the defending champions and, on this occasion, getting the better of them.

Geylang coach Noor Ali was scathing in his assessment of Sailors' line-up, saying: "If they decide to play that kind of team, it shows the respect you have for the opponents. We planned to play against their best team. Credit to my boys because they showed what teamwork is all about.

"We ensured that we kept our shape right for the game and we stopped their crosses from coming in. From back to front, my players were superb today."

Sailors coach Kim said: "We learn from every game, and we’ll learn more from games that we lose. It’s only the second game of the season for us, so we’ll go back, analyse what happened, and we’ll learn - we’ll learn and bounce back.

"The red card obviously had an impact on the game - it’s not easy to play against any opponent when you are one man down - but Pedro was trying his best for the team.

"Geylang prepared well, credit to them for that. In football you have to score to win, and we didn’t do that today, so we’ll have to go back take a look at the game again, keep our chins up, work harder to prepare better and bounce back - I’m confident we will bounce back."

Analysis

The Sailors showed their strength in depth in their opening fixture on Sunday (Feb 27) when three of their substitutes came off the bench to make telling contributions in a 3-1 win over Hougang.

And it was this quality that Sailors coach Kim Do-hoon hoped to bank on, given the changes he made to his starting-lineup on Friday (March 4). But it backfired.

Instead, it gave motivation to the Eagles, who were fired up from the first whistle.

To beat the Sailors, drive is a necessity but so is quality and in Bezecourt and Zuzul, Geylang had that today.

Behind the duo, Takahiro Tezuka and Huzaifah Aziz controlled the midfield while Rio Sakuma and Faizal Roslan were impeccable in defence.

A famous victory for the Eagles and one that will send a strong message to the rest of the league.

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