Talonless Versus Keeperless
Grilled became the only S-League club remaining in the Singapore Cup, after they held off Team Singapore to claim a semi-final berth. Playing without a recognized striker as sprightly attacking midfielder Lee Jie Siong
staked his claim for the lone forward's position ahead of Ulf Hjortlind
, they were matched by Team Singapore not having a proper top-class goalkeeper as their ex-U20 star Chew Xiaolun watched the game on television at home after sustaining a near-fracture on Sunday.
Knowing that, Grilled's strategy was blindlingly obvious - put the game in a stranglehold and hope for the penalty shootout. Their tactical discipline was relaxed somewhat after noticing that Team Singapore's goalie replacement Wong Tian Kum appeared nervous in goal, and Jie Siong was up to the task of testing him. Paullin, plying the left flank, managed to get the better of ZhangCai Khoi-Khoa with his speed, but Jie Siong's weak effort was gratefully smothered by Wong.
The home side soon responded, and Mohd Satar bin Mohamed nearly exploited Sid's optimistic rush up the sidelines and van Liere's unwillingness to track back by roaming down the left unopposed. Grilled were badly outnumbered and new signing Han Lik-Tsun
could only watch as the attackers opened up a channel for Mohd Satar with some sharp passes, but the shot went straight to Sulaiman, who looked almost bored as he clutched it to his chest.
Sulaiman was not so unruffled on Team Singapore's next offensive, again down the left as Sid tried to be in two places at the same time. Knocking the ball past Talib, Rafael Cuero inserted himself between the Pakistani defender and the ball, and Talib could only trail him helplessly as he brought the ball inside the box and scored with a crisp grounder.
That threw a spanner in Grilled's plans, as the Birds now needed to score back to have a chance. Jie Siong was not very effective as a lone striker, though, and Team Singapore could have demoralised them further with a second goal before half-time. The threat of speedy Syamsul bin Md Johadi exploding past the last man caused Bona to go in for a tackle softly, and Jue Shiu-Fai took advantage of that to lash a stinger at the goal. Sulaiman just barely kept that out with his wrists.
Reverting to more patient positional play, Grilled got the goal they wanted out of the blue in the 63rd minute; The opponents appeared to lose their shape after chasing the ball for minutes, which gave van Liere licence to make up ground on the right. While he had trouble getting past the famously fast wingback Hua Kok-Peng, he didn't need to in the end, and threaded a surprise pass between several defenders to a waiting Quah Han Kok
. Han Kok instinctively swept it past Wong, who could only turn and watch the ball roll into his goal.
With their gameplan back on, Grilled returned to frustating Team Singapore's moves. Debuting Han Lik-Tsun
was particularly impressive, as he put in some determined challenges to nip potential problems in the bud. Team Singapore did have a penalty call late in the game when Syamsul bin Md Johadi took a tumble next to Sulaiman as the two jostled for a lob, but given the circumstances the referee thought that he went down a bit too easily.
Extra-time commenced, and Grilled suffered a scare when Mohd Satar ran foward to knock a corner kick on to ex-U20 defender ZhangCai Khoi-Khoa, who was somehow left unmarked near the far post. It looked to be over for Grilled as he squared up to take his shot, but he cut himself too little slack and ended up rebounding the ball quite some distance off the post.
His mistake was capitalised upon in speedy fashion, as Fabian Bona
broke forward and used his good understanding with his midfielders to earn a clear shot on goal. His workmanlike attempt was little more than on goal, but Wong couldn't get behind it, and it continued on over the line to end the contest in Grilled's favour.