SINGAPORE — Even though the Lion City Sailors' hopes of advancing out of their AFC Champions League (ACL) group were dashed in Bangkok on Wednesday night (29 November), it has nonetheless been a month to remember for the Singapore Premier League (SPL) team.
A narrow 0-1 defeat by Bangkok United at the Thammasat Stadium meant that the Sailors will not be able to finish among the two spots in Group F, even if they are to win their final group match against Hong Kong's Kitchee FC at Jalan Besar Stadium on 13 December.
Against the current Thai League 1 leaders, the Sailors - SPL runners-up for the past two seasons - defended admirably for much of the game, while also causing Bangkok United problems on the counter-attack.
The match turned on a three-minute spell near the end. In the 83rd-minute, Sailors forward Shawal Anuar stormed into the Bangkok United penalty area unmarked, but his attempt was too close to goalkeeper Patiwat Khammai, who made the crucial save against the Singapore international.
Three minutes later came the coup de grace. A free kick was given just outside the Sailors penalty area, and Bangkok United midfielder Rungrath Phumichantuk - who had been tormenting the Sailors defence all night - dispatched a superb free kick that just cleared the wall and dipped into the net, giving the host the precious win to deny the Sailors.
Successes for Sailors all November
Despite the agonising defeat, the Sailors could still feel proud of their second ACL campaign in the club's four-year history. They registered two wins so far - the same as their debut campaign in 2022 - and one of them was a monumental 2-0 upset of nine-time K-League winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at Jalan Besar Stadium earlier this month.
They could outdo that debut campaign in points accumulated, should they defeat Kitchee in two weeks' time. They had already beaten the bottom-placed club 2-1 in Hong Kong on 4 October.
This month also saw the Sailors' Maxime Lestienne earning the SPL Player of the Year accolade, after the stellar season in which the Belgian winger poured in 25 goals and 21 assists to lead the club to their second-place finish behind Albirex Niigata (Singapore).
The Sailors could still end the year with more honours. They are in the Singapore Cup semi-finals, after topping their Group B with two wins and a draw, and will face Tampines Rovers over two legs in December.
With Albirex already knocked out of the competition, they are favourites to clinch their first Singapore Cup title. That would herald much optimism for the privatised club as they plan to topple Albirex next season - and perhaps do even better in the next ACL edition.
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