Luna Ropes Up
Grilled were handed their first scoreless loss at home in ten seasons by an indomitable Ropelearner FC, who executed former national coach Mohd Khairol Anuar Ahmad's soak-and-strike strategy to the letter. Eschewing playing any forwards, they concentrated their efforts on maintaining an iron defence, before three well-placed counterpunches knocked the air out of the Birds.
The 81200-strong crowd at The Cooking Pot, the most in the country this weekend, were expecting a good result on the back of eight straight wins, bolstered further by the 6-2 away that Grilled achieved just a month back. Ropelearner had not been sitting still, though, and made the on-the-surface passive decision to run a 5-5-0.
Certainly, the hosts were used to this sort of thing, and it looked to be business as usual as they sought to slowly wear their opponents down. Ropelearner weren't chasing the ball too much, though, and German winger Immo Pöhlke was incisive when he received it wide, leaving Ling Fuquan
to eat the first caution of the match by hauling him down in the eighth minute.
Ling then got upfield to fire wide, which was answered by Louis-Philippe Scheerlinck looking up and finding Lee Keong Hui breaking in the other direction, which required Wong Tian Han
to scramble at him and smack away the attempted header. This end-to-end action served to rouse the spectators mightily, lending the derby even more of a big game feel.
Most of those in attendance were not too impressed with their team's lethargic performance in attack, however, and after long minutes of questionable passing it about in midfield, Jake Tse nicked it off a stumbling Zhu Changchun
. This was the signal for Ropelearner's flanks to explode into space, and Spanish right winger Federico Hernández Luna outmaneuvered Gene Filippone
neatly and clipped it just around Wong.
The visitors immediately returned to full-on defence, inviting Grilled at them, which they then handled without too much discomfort. Tempers began to fray at what some of the Birds players thought was blatant time-wasting, and Chow Ying Lee
was very fortunate to escape censure for what appeared to be a deliberate swipe at Walerian Tadel, resulting in the Pole limping off.
Karma struck back instantly, as Nicola Scuteri cleverly took the free-kick while players from both sides were still trying to debate the referee. Caught badly out of position, the Birds' left wing lost Luna totally, and the Spaniard gleefully drew Wong out before centering to Quah Leong Long to walk it in.
This drew even more heated objections from the Grilled team, but Albert Argemí was insistent that he had already blown the whistle, and that was that. To add to the farce, Filippone tripped over a teammate while turning away from the discussion, but at least walked away from that with merely a bruised ego.
For all that, going without a goal at home was just not done for the Birds, and they were momentarily back in sync in the second half. Chow was in the thick of it, but Frans Kopola got himself low to shove his close-range effort aside, before Chow blew up by somehow hitting it over the bar from barely five metres. The Grilled Number Ten buried his face in his jersey at that, in acknowledgement of having wasted perhaps the easiest chance he would get this season.
Grilled were then lucky to survive a couple of Ropelearner raids, as Luna proved only too effective going on the outside of Clément Meyer
. However, the killer blow did come, but before that, Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
got the crowd going with some snappy footwork that saw Seow mesmerized. Unfortunately, it didn't work on the experienced Kopola, who stayed on his line and blocked the shot.
The rebound went right to Mario Lafranconi, who ran it out of defence, and after a diversion to Quah, the ball was dealt forward for the onrushing Lee Keong Hui. These two passes proved sufficient to bypass Grilled's wretched attempt at defending, and there was little Wong could do to prevent Lee from slipping it under him for 3-0.
The home fans were rendered completely speechless, and could only muster a weak response when Zhao Jing Wei
was clattered into by an aggressive Pöhlke from behind. The Grilled vice-captain tried to soldier on, but was soon wincing with a hand on his tailbone, and a frowning Djan Bacelar
gestured for Nicola Vandeneynde
to warm up and take over.
If the visitors had been solid at the back earlier, they were even more so in the final ten minutes, and with Grilled's players looking resigned, it was little wonder that it ended with no further updates to the scoresheet.