Football: Sailors beat Tampines to keep S'pore Premier League title hopes alive

Lion City's Gabriel Quak scoring the first goal by chipping the ball over Tampines goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.
Lion City's Gabriel Quak scoring the first goal by chipping the ball over Tampines goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - After two months and three games, Lion City Sailors coach Kim Do-hoon finally got his first victory in the Singapore Premier League on Sunday (Aug 15) as they beat Tampines Rovers 4-1 to keep the pressure on leaders Albirex Niigata. 

Still on the hunt for their first league title, the Sailors now sit three points behind four-time champions Albirex (34 points) and have a game in hand. 

With seven games remaining this season, Kim vowed that his team would push on in their title challenge in a bid to become the first local club to win the league since 2014.

“Every game is important, we improved on the parts that we lacked last game and we will continue to challenge every game,” said the South Korean, who won the Asian Champions League with South Korean giants Ulsan Hyundai last year.

“This win helps boost team morale and our players are constantly looking to improve and hopefully this is the start for many good things to come.”

The Sailors took the lead after 34 minutes when Stipe Plazibat punted a ball from midfield to striker Gabriel Quak, who chipped it over Tampines’ goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.

Just two minutes later, Faris Ramli squared off the ball for Plazibat to finish a quick counterattack and double the Sailors’ lead over Tampines.

The Sailors wasted no time when the game restarted, making it 3-0 just 20 seconds after the second half got underway. Faris was involved again as he fed a through ball to Saifullah Akbar and the midfielder dinked it over Syazwan to make it 3-0, before Plazibat added his second and the Sailors’ fourth of the night in the 48th minute.

Tampines pulled one back in the 59th minute through Boris Kopitovic, who collected Zehrudin Mehmehdovic’s pass and smashed it into the net, but it was too little too late for the visitors, who were looking to notch their first win in the season restart.

Kim said he was pleased at how his players performed despite missing Brazilians Jorge Fellipe and Diego Lopes through suspension and a minor injury, respectively. 

Kim said: “We were able to see that everyone is ready to step up. We had Hassan (Sunny) back sooner than expected which helped boost the mood and all other experienced players played their part to push the team forward. I’m encouraged to see everyone was able to play well.”

While there was delight for the Sailors, there was only despair for Tampines, who suffered their eighth straight loss in all competitions since May 22 and are now fourth in the league standings. 

The Stags were hoping to bounce back from a difficult ACL campaign which saw them lose all six games, conceding 27 goals and scoring one.

They then ran into more challenges upon their return to Singapore from Uzbekistan, as two players tested positive for the coronavirus, putting paid to the team’s plans to train in a bubble environment during their mandatory two-week quarantine.

But Tampines coach Gavin Lee refused to put the blame solely on the disruptions they faced.
He said: “We were disappointed with how the match turned out. The atmosphere was fantastic with the fans in the stadium but unfortunately we couldn’t match up to that.

“We feel that all of them (the Sailors’ goals) were preventable. We didn’t construct our possession well and so were exposed on the transition moments.”

The Sailors’ first win under Kim comes at a crucial time as the final round of the season kicks off. 

Their dominant performance against Tampines will definitely give them confidence going into next Friday’s (Aug 20) game against Tanjong Pagar, where a win will see them top the league on goal difference.  

Tampines will be desperate to snap their losing streak, which has been extended to eight games in all competitions after Sunday’s loss.

But as they look to turn their fortunes around, they will have to cut out unnecessary errors that proved to be costly against the Sailors. The Stags will play Balestier Khalsa on Thursday.