Six At A Snip
Grilled made a massive move towards consolidating their position with a fantastic 6-2 away at Impossibility Camp. The near 75000 who had come made this one of the best-attended games for the weekend, but most of them would leave disappointed, after their idols were cast down by the Birds.
The sting of the Cup semifinal defeat had, of course, not been erased from the hosts' minds, which led to heavy speculation over what formation Mohd Khairol Anuar Ahmad would choose, with Ropelearner proficient in both the 4-5-1 and 3-5-2. The answer was the former, indicating that they had trusted in the setup which had recorded clean sheet wins against United and All Stars Team.
Moreover, their 1-5 downfall then had been played with a three-man backline, which made the added caution all the more understandable; Mohd Khairol would likely have been even more confident in his decision after noting that Clément Meyer
had been drafted in as a central defender in place of Ling Fuquan
today, meaning that Grilled's normally shaky defence would be even more vulnerable.
Then again, the Birds were never going to win it by turtling, and they began the derby explosively, tempting Ropelearner to jump in with a quick passing game. The hosts were not about to bite, and were odds-on to profit upon any slip, when Low Aik Jia
threw all these careful considerations into disarray with his unmatched pace.
Blowing past wingback Albert Mitusov, no slouch himself, Low found only clear space between himself and Finnish goalie Frans Kopola. The home fans experienced a familiar sinking feeling, this being almost exactly the same situation as that Cup meeting, and indeed Low once more got the scoring going with an incredibly deft chip.
Ropelearner were however also rather improved from two seasons ago, and soon recovered their footing. They wrested the ascendacy from Grilled for a time, and pesky Belgian forward Joren Coucke won a free-kick off Meyer in the 27th minute. Local star Jake Tse went for the disguised pass, and surprise customer Louis-Philippe Scheerlinck rushed in unheeded to level things off.
This lifted the crowd, and Ropelearner were playing it smoothly with their support, only for Tian Yonghang
to spoil the party with a razor-sharp bit of poaching four minutes later. The top-scoring Grilled skipper quickly became the most unpopular man in the stadium as he pulled the strings from his withdrawn position, before supplying an assist for Meyer's goal in the 38th minute.
The Frenchman, who had been having a wildly inconsistent half, would next collect a yellow card after forcefully bumping into Nicola Scuteri right before half-time. Despite that, it was clear that he was enjoying himself at the back, notwithstanding his rather artless challenges adding years to the visiting fans' age.
With the strategy of holding the Birds down not working, and needed at least two goals, Mohd Khairol changed tack. In came S$5 million striker Karl Refvik, who had played in the Masters with Georgian club Datire. The Ropelearner wingers further inched up and wide, as the home team sought to kickstart their offense, and the stands responded with a buzz of anticipation.
Unfortunately, it was simply not coming off for them, as the Birds managed to drag Ropelearner into fairly pointless individual battles in midfield. Having lost just the one match before this, and probably not wholly deservedly, the hosts were forced to venture forward rashly as time ran out, only to be made to pay as Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
cunningly played Scheerlinck for a free-kick on the counter.
Wong Ping Shun
gave Kopola no chance with one of his piledriver specials low and through the wall, and the realisation that their hopes were gone had not quite sunk in, when Woon Shun An
piled on the misery with his unstylish but functional header off a Wong Ping Shun
Dutch winger Remco Tammer reduced the pain with some mesmerising solo dribbling skills to make it 2-5, but there was no mistaking which team were on top this day, as the indefatigable Tian made it into double digits in the league for the season already, with another excellent read of a momentary mistake by the Ropelearner defence.