All the ingredients were in place - a nearly-packed stadium despite the roaring rain, a well-oiled team which had spent two seasons getting to know each other, striker extraordinare Ola Martinsson
and... forgotten man Joe Stern
The Canadian forward had been a bench-warmer after Wilson Kearney arrived to lift the team at the end of Grilled's first season in Division Two, but earned two seasons' worth of salary with an 87th minute shocker that gave Grilled a point and the championship. The match began with the pitch close to unplayable, no surprise at all to the hard-core home fans who have seen so many wet days that they sat with raincoats on in the terraces. Grilled had overcome their opponents 6-3 away earlier in the season off a hat-trick from Hjortlind and two from Alcántara, and were reminded of that throughout by a huge Six-Three banner put up by their supporters.
Ulf was in the stands however due to a suspension from the raffles game, watching as Martinsson emulated his sizzling deeds, putting the home team two-nil up within 33 minutes even as Aznan Noor Yadah
struggled with play, dominated by tall Aussie Anthony Sugden. Bluedragon started with only two from their stable of strikers, the redoubtable Frangky Manaf and hot Singaporean scorer Zeng Ciang-Sien, an Under-20 international formerly from S-League powerhouses Herron, just twenty but already with fifty-seven professional goals under his belt.
Martinsson struck the first blows, first delivering a penalty after Asher Stanton
was held in the box, and then spotting a hole in the defence and turning a shot through it that Jamie Jeremy only managed to scrabble into the corner of the net. Manaf replied by following through on a decent shot from Ciang-Sien that Bao-Tam thought safe to punch back, leaving Tuan-Mu metres behind as he stroked the ball into goal. Encouraged, Ciang-Sien tried from afar barely a minute later, and required no assistance this time as Bao-Tam could not read his shot in the driving winds, mistiming his leap and allowing the ball into the back of the net.
As if that were not enough, sweeper Peter Robertsson joined in the fun by running into the area unheeded as Grilled's defenders were all over Manaf and Ciang-Sien trying to prevent a disaster. Shen saw the danger right enough, but he was nowhere near enough to make a difference as Manaf played a sharp pass on to the Swedish defender, who seemed to hesistate but buried an assured shot right down the middle of the goal over Bao-Tam's shoulder. Grilled had went from two goals up to one down in the space of four minutes, and trotted into the tunnel thouroughly demoralised for the half-time break.
Whatever coach and substitute goalie Frank Öhmo
said to them in that fifteen minutes must have worked, for Grilled started the second period showing unparalleled aggressiveness. They found a third forward in the body of Zhan Ju-Hau
, who as usual was nigh-unstoppable in mud. Eschewing all style, Zhan shook free of Fredrik Wennborn with sheer powerful running and then turned Robertsson on the outside.
Less determined individuals would have taken the fall and looked for the spot kick when Robertsson's calculated tackle caught them on the trailing foot, but not Zhan - he stumbled a few steps and then toe-kicked the ball to Jeremy's left. Grilled's defenders were the culprits once again in the 64th minute, as they did not communicate and German winger Armin Steinert got clear on the right with Sugden in support. Dewilde rushed to fill the gap, but a pass down to Sugden, then a controlled lob into space set Manaf up perfectly for a powerful knee-level drive that flew past Bao-Tam.
Thomas Bokland received the game's first yellow card as he cut down Martinsson on the flanks, but it seemed a clever decision as the free-scoring Swede could have been free onto goal otherwise. Bokland did even more to endear the travelling fans to him as he supplied a beautiful corner in the 78th minute that fullback Fredrik Wennborn headed in, as Manaf, known for his aerial prowness, and Sudgen, who stood a head over most others on the field, provided a foil for him.
It appeared all over for the Birds, but Aznan Noor Yadah
clearly hadn't thrown in the towel. From the kick-off, he moved from his distributive role in midfield onto the left wing where he spent much of his early career, and overlapped Asher Stanton
on a blitz down that side. Stanton dribbled as far as he could before hitting the ball up and hoping for the best. Aznan answered his prayers as he kept the ball in play in a race to the touchline, then scored from a very tight angle. Grilled still lacked a goal however, and while Bluedragon were not noted for defence, any good team is tough to score again when they concentrate on the backline, especially when they have top-class forwards to punish any mistakes made.
Grilled's midfield stayed up as the defenders sent long balls up, a lottery at best. When the game looked out of Grilled's hands, Martinsson won a header he had no business winning, with a hint of a foul on Wennborn. No whistle was heard, and Stern sharp as ever was onto the ball in a flash and turned on the afterburners as he sprinted towards goal. Speed once again made all the difference, as Stern got as far as the six-yard box, then slid into the ball to send it flying high. It ended up in the roof of the net, and after a second of absolute silence the stadium went berserk as Stern vanished under a pile of delirious teammates.
Three minutes remained on the clock, and with ten goals already seen in the match Grilled instinctively realised that another was not unlikely. Two minutes on, Martinsson got ejected after standing too close to a Bluedragon free kick despite repeated warning, an automatic suspension for the last game at FC GBR. Bluedragon tried one last attack right down the centre, which broke down and saw Shen Kek-Tjiang
leading the counter. With the entire stadium on its feet, Shen pushed a furious pace almost to the penalty area before Robertsson took the ball away with a great saving tackle. Shen was adamant that there had been a foul, and railed at the linesman, getting only a caution. It was enough to run the remaining seconds out though, as the referee blew for time as the ball left Stanton's hands at the throw-in, and the title was Grilled's.