Lost And Seeking
There were no signs of an upturn as Grilled embarassingly lost a second time at home, as they found no recourse against Claseek's beautifully-executed counterattacking gameplan. The decline of the Birds' once-feared attack was evident for all to see, as build-up after build-up went amiss in front of their despairing supporters.
Despite their recent failings, the bookies still had the Birds favoured to win here, and it wasn't hard to see why - other than having home advantage, Claseek hadn't really gotten close in both their attempts last season. Doğan Pürçek had them line up in the same 4-5-1 they had taken to The Cooking Pot previously, but where Grilled had broken them down handily then, they found the going much, much tougher this time.
For one, two of their biggest performers then - Lee Lee Hao and Clément Meyer - had gone, and many of those that stayed were clearly not as good as they once were. The little deficiencies added up and compounded, and although the midfield made a right show of hogging the ball, there was no missing that Claseek were ridiculously comfortable keeping Grilled out.
Big Swiss centre-forward Ian Kleine, who had imposed himself in the clubs' latest meeting in May, had only become more complete, and he served notice in the 15th minute with a thundering header against fellow countryman Gene Filippone
. That was only their first chance taken against the Birds, but given how quickly they were moving it down the flanks, there could only be more to come.
And so it did, via left winger Yeo Hao Cheng; Grilled's attempt at switching it up by shifting Low Aik Jia
over to the right appeared clever at the beginning, but Low's unwillingness to track back soon proved their downfall. Twenty-seven minutes in, Yeo received a clearance while free in the final third, and without any hint of backup, Yuki Irie
was powerless against Yeo's acceleration, resulting in a fine assist for him off Kleine.
The lesson had not been learnt, and the Birds received a second blow almost before that had faded away. In his defence, Low had been engaged in leading the line this time, and Yeo was frankly unblockable once he had pushed the ball past Neeraj Muthyala
on the inside. An unsightly shouting match between Djan Bacelar
and Low ensued in the aftermath, which at least saw the latter grudgingly shadowing Yeo from then on.
Grilled's suffering fans were struggling to get it up by this stage, as their assaults broke tamely against Claseek's backline. Gennady Dvorak
looked strangely subdued, Rinor Isufi
in contrast was far too direct and easy to read, and Tian Yonghang
's touch deserted him for once. There was a sliver of hope when Ang Leong Kum
latched onto a fluffed interception on the right side, but he then rolled it right at Eñaut Iturrioz.
They then rode their luck, as Claseek roared forward in search of a third, just before half-time. This time, the charge was led by Tung Guicheng on the right, and a well-planned crossover run saw Yeo in the clear. Hariharan Prabhu
threw himself into the line of fire, delaying the strike for a second or two, which was about enough for Wong Tian Han
to set himself up for the save.
Prabhu's brave action left him with a pulled thigh muscle, and was by some distance Grilled's highlight of the half - which didn't bode well. At least, the fans were appeased as they clapped the injured Number Twenty Seven off for Mohammad Ramli Saliman
, who had barely stepped on when Marcello Maddaloni decided to end the half.
There would be no discernable improvement from the hosts, unfortunately. They were once again horribly insipid going forward, with Isufi on the brink of losing his patience. Tian Yonghang
tried to get around the team's limitations with more involved short passing, but all Claseek's back four had to do was to hold their line, in view of the total lack of penetration.
And so it was. Immediately after a hurried advance in which Iturrioz didn't have too much trouble with Tian's cheeky heel prod, Claseek unleashed Kleine down the middle with a raking pass. There was no semblance of organization as Kleine barrelled his way into the six-yard box, and a neat layoff to Tung after Wong Tian Han
had committed himself made it an easy 3-0.
Ominously, it was too far gone for outrage from the stands, as even the diehards that remained were resigned to their fates. A solemn Bacelar would make his first planned substitution soon, putting Hoàng Trung Quá
on, and then a while later played his final card - Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
The transfer of the armband between Mohd Safri and longtime compatriot Tian Yonghang
was tinged with a hint of sadness at the circumstances, and despite Mohd Safri's undoubted heart and experience, it quickly became apparent that he no longer had the game-changing qualities he was once known for. Manhandled by Claseek's Indian centreback Siba Pati whenever he got close, he didn't have the mobility required to trouble the opposition defence either.
, who had been diligent if completely impotent throughout, finally lost it with ten minutes to go, and was booked for an altercation with Kosuke Mizushima. He did then get his moment in the spotlight, with an eye-catching double turn that sent Mara Roekanda to ground with a twisted ankle, but he would then run it out of play, in keeping with the story of the day.
It could get worse. Not content with sitting back, Tung Guicheng dodged past a weary Ang Leong Kum
in the 88th minute, and slung an extra-long cross at the Grilled penalty area, almost from the halfway line. Hoàng didn't realise that he had been playing Kleine onside, and by the time he tried to make amends, it was far too late. Four-nil.
Mohd Safri tried to at least spare the Birds the shame of a whitewash, but despite shimmying his way inside in injury time with some style, he was effortlessly chased down by Pati before he could wind up for a shot. This was too much for the veteran, who lashed out at the defender before storming off straight down the tunnel, not even acknowledging Maddaloni's yellow card - a worrying sight, if there ever was one.