SINGAPORE - National striker Sahil Suhaimi's return to the Courts Young Lions fold last month coincided with their recent upturn in fortunes in the S-League.
The 21-year-old scored four goals in as many league games on his return, continuing his rich vein of form from last December's SEA Games.
Held in Myanmar, that international meet was his last piece of competitive action, when he contributed three goals to Singapore's bronze-medal run.
His S-League goals have helped his side - second bottom of the 12-team table with eight points - to their first two league victories of the season against Harimau Muda 'B' and Hougang United.
He was forced to sit out the first six games - from February to April - because he could not pass the league's mandatory fitness test, a 2.4km run.
"When I hear the word 'test', I just get scared and my mind goes into kan-cheong (Cantonese for anxious) mode," said Sahil. "During the run, I constantly think of things like the consequences I'll face if I fail, or even if I'm running too fast or slow, which leads to me losing concentration during the test."
Players must complete the run in under 10 minutes to pass the test, but this benchmark thwarted Sahil on five attempts when he clocked between 10:12 and 10:45.
But he ran the 2.4km course after every training session, and did extra workouts with Football Association of Singapore fitness coach Aleksandar Bozenko.
On April 7, on his sixth attempt, he ran the course in 9:58.
"I'm glad he's now back with us as we've missed his presence up front," said Aide who turns 39 this month.
"Not only can he hold up the ball and link up the midfield and attack, he is also a clinical finisher as his form so far shows."
Sahil - who scored twice in 19 appearances for his side last season - hopes he has made amends with his recent contributions.
"I owe my team a lot for missing those six games. It's frustrating to see us do badly in those games as I felt I may have been able to make a difference."
Today, he will sit out the second game of a two-game suspension after a red card in the victory against Hougang, but hopes he can continue where he left off.
He is also eyeing a spot in the squad for the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup this year, which holders Singapore will co-host with Vietnam.
"It's an honour for anyone to be able to represent their country and I am no different," said Sahil who has two caps so far.
"I know I can make a case for myself, provided I continue working hard and scoring goals."
Aide believes Sahil can continue to make an impact.
"Sahil needs only one chance and Singapore hasn't really had a lot of such strikers since Indra Sahdan," he said.
"But he needs to keep working hard to become a full-fledged national striker and we hope to make that happen."
This article was published on May 15 in The Straits Times.
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