Lion City Sailors show promise in Kim's first game but Albirex still the team to beat

After grabbing the headlines with the appointment of Kim Do-hoon -- last year's AFC Champions League-winning coach -- as their new man in charge back in May, Lion City Sailors had to wait over two months to welcome him to the dugout.

As the Sailors got their Singapore Premier League campaign back underway on Friday evening following the recent international break, Kim's managerial debut offered plenty of promise even if it may not have delivered the result they would have been hoping for.

Kim could not have been handed a bigger baptism of fire with his bow coming against reigning champions Albirex Niigata (S), but it also represented an opportunity to make a real statement.

A 1-1 draw at the Jurong East Stadium was ultimately a fair result in a classic game of two halves.

Albirex were the dominant side in the first half as they took a deserving lead just before the break courtesy of a Ryoya Taniguchi penalty, but Lion City -- buoyed by the introduction of playmaker Diego Lopes -- came to the fore in the second 45 and earned a share of the spoils through Stipe Plazibat's 70th-minute equaliser.

There were still glimpses of the same issues that prevented the Sailors from really challenging for the title last season.

At times, they were caught in possession in vulnerable areas of the field and played themselves into trouble, requiring the ever-reliable Hassan Sunny in goal to bail them out on a couple of occasions.

Those moments aside, Lion City combined well as a unit and showed plenty of adventure without ever looking like they were running the risk of exposing themselves at the back.

In the closing stages of the game, they piled men forward but then looked like they would be hit on the counter by Albirex, only for the threat to be quickly snuffed out by a recovering Faris Ramli, usually more renowned for his attacking prowess but whose work rate and determination in that moment would have greatly pleased Kim.

Nonetheless, for all of the positives the Sailors produced, it is worth bearing it mind that their match-day squad was one that boasted four foreign imports along with seven Singapore internationals.

On the contrary, Albirex -- officially still a satellite team of their Japanese parent club in the J2 League -- have a squad largely made up of under-23 players.

This is not a slight on Lion City but rather testament to the impressive feats which Albirex continue to do year after year, bringing in new talent that have still been good enough to win four of the last five league titles in Singapore.

As they maintained their one-point lead over the Sailors at the SPL summit, the White Swans showed they are still the team to beat.

But if Kim continues to squeeze more improvement out from his talented charges, Lion City could certainly emerge as legitimate contenders for the crown from now till the end of the season.