Singapore Premier League: Sailors put a twist in title race by stunning Albirex

They come from 0-2 down at half-time to grab a 3-2 win to stop defending champs from returning to the top of the table

Lion City Sailors stalwarts Maxime Lestienne (left) and Diego Lopes celebrate their come-from-behind win over defending SPL champions Albirex Niigata. (PHOTO: SPL/Facebook)
Lion City Sailors stalwarts Maxime Lestienne (left) and Diego Lopes celebrate their come-from-behind win over defending SPL champions Albirex Niigata. (PHOTO: SPL/Facebook)

SINGAPORE — The Lion City Sailors breathed new life in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title race on Sunday (21 May), after they came from 0-2 down to stun defending champions Albirex Niigata (Singapore) 3-2 at the Bishan Stadium.

Albirex's loss meant that Tampines Rovers, 1-0 victors over the Young Lions on Saturday, stayed at the top of the table, two points ahead but having played one more game. The third-placed Sailors also closed the gap between themselves and Albirex to just one point.

It had seemed that it would be a one-way traffic for Albirex in the first half of the clash, as they raced to a 2-0 lead inside 25 minutes. Their first goal came fortuitously in the 13th minute, when Tadanari Lee's header hit the post and Sailors left-back Nur Adam skewed his goal-line clearance into the net instead.

Lee doubled Albirex's lead in the 25th minute, sticking out his leg to divert Kaisei Ogawa's free kick from the left flank into the net.

However, the Sailors roared back in the second half, as Albirex's defence uncharacteristically cracked under incessant pressure despite having conceded only thrice all season. Brazilian midfielder Diego Lopes began the comeback four minutes into the second half, latching on to Shawal Anuar's cut-back from the right flank to slot calmly home.

Four minutes later it was 2-2, as Belgian winger Maxime Lestienne's cross eluded every Albirex defender and found Shawal in the far corner, who slammed home with glee.

The Sailors' comeback was completed in the 75th minute, in one of the most breathtaking passages of the SPL season.

A long clearance from the Sailors defence found Lestienne, who volleyed towards Lopes in centre of midfield. The Brazilian's first touch released his Belgian teammate on the left flank, and Lestienne crossed perfectly for substitute striker Abdul Rasaq to volley emphatically home as the home crowd roared in delight.

Early goal enough for Tampines to leapfrog Albirex

Tampines notched their second win on the trot with an early goal against bottom-placed Young Lions at Our Tampines Hub.

Last season's top scorer Boris Kopitovic notched his ninth goal of the season in the second minute, as he barged past the Young Lions defence and poked home before goalkeeper Muhammad Aizil could reach the ball.

The Stags were unable to add to the scoreline despite dominating the match, but the win was enough to see them climb over Albirex in the SPL standings, and stay there following Albirex's defeat.

In the other SPL match on Saturday, Balestier Khalsa climbed to fourth spot with their third straight league victory, beating Brunei's DPMM FC 3-2 at Bishan Stadium.

Shuhei Hoshino opened the scoring for the Tigers on the half-hour mark, slotting home following a goalmouth melee. However, DPMM equalised straight off the second-half kick-off, as Hakeme Yazid dribbled past the Balestier defence and curled the ball home from just inside the box.

Daniel Goh restored Balestier's lead four minutes later, dribbling in from the right flank before placing his shot in the near post. And Masahiro Sugita made it 3-1 in the 55th minute, slamming home from a cross by fellow Japanese forward Ryoya Taniguchi.

Hakeme reduced the deficit in the 71st minute from close range, but Balestier held on for the win.

In the final match of the weekend, Tanjong Pagar United defeated Geylang International 3-2 at Our Tampines Hub on Sunday, snapping their four-match losing streak with goals from Khairul Amri (10th minute), Mirko Sugic (45th) and Marin Mudrazija (45th). Geylang replied through Vincent Bezecourt (45th) and Delwinder Singh (72nd).

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