Behdad Banged Up
Grilled's woeful season about effectively came to an end today at the hands of up-and-coming Division Four club Zeneve Tactika, who knocked them out of the Ruby Challenger Cup with a two-nil result. Skipper Tian Yonghang
had pointedly been silent on a solution to their attacking malaise after their weekend collapse, and Zeneve must have been taking notes, as they about duplicated Claseek's successful tack.
Formed five seasons ago from the erstwhile Tanglin Corsairs, Zeneve Tactika moved to the East Coast, and almost immediately began delivering consistently under head coach Ong Tze Chuan, never finishing below second in their league. Ong's reign has been marked by admirable financial discipline, with his S$5.3 million purchase of Iranian star striker Behdad Golafshanlou accounting for the vast bulk of their transfer spending thus far.
They had moreover been on a roll, having won their last seven, while conceding only twice; despite the Birds having some comparatively big names on their side, they tellingly could not hide the air of despondency hanging over them, with it ironically being their younger set who approached the game with better intent.
The rain definitely helped Zeneve far more than it did the Birds, who had let go of their more down-and-dirty personnel such as Wong Ping Shun and Woon Shun An; The burly Golafshanlou was indisputably one of their ilk, and thrived in the slow conditions with his unparalled traction and shielding abilities. Grilled's defenders soon found out how hard it was to shift him off the ball, once he got on it.
Mohammad Ramli Saliman
kicked off with the first real attempt of the game, but his thoughtful lining up of his twenty-five yarder was let down by his planted foot giving way in the mud, causing the shot to drift wide. Golafshanlou would steam down the right as a grateful Silviu Eftimie pumped a goal-kick to him, with the aid of an alert ball boy, and the Iranian feinted past Yuta Nakakita
deceptively gracefully, before drilling it by Wong Tian Han
Grilled were hit by much the same counter just three minutes later, after Tian Yonghang
nodded smartly on for Eftimie to tip it over, and then had a very poor corner kick cut out prematurely. They were then caught desperately short-handed as Yip Chi Seng broke down the left, and despite some forward thinking from Moey Xin Seng
to cover Artur Korczak, he was ultimately not able to cut out the inbound pass that the Polish defender duly converted.
Luis Alcántara could only shake his head at how messed up Grilled's defensive positioning had been on that play, but then again, it was not wholly unexpected given the tender age of the midfield core. They tried to make up for it with heart, with a pretty neat switching of focus from right to left leaving Kalki Parvathaneni
a clear run on goal - had he been able to recognize the opportunity.
The Birds were getting their behinds handed to them at this rate, and they were given a timely boost, after several close shaves. Behdad Golafshanlou, who had been close to untouchable, got carried away and flung himself headlong at the goalpost, knocking himself out. Many anxious minutes passed as he failed to respond to various stimuli, and it was a great relief when he finally stirred.
As Golafshanlou clearly would not be able to continue, his understudy Koh Guang Ze came on for him, and filled in without missing a beat. In fact, his very first touch nearly became an assist as Zeneve again counterattacked with gusto, and Wong Tian Han
was very fortunate to see John Salmon's effort rattle against his far post. Moey Xin Seng
would be booked for his late follow-through on Salmon, but given how the game was going, it could be taken as a badge of honour.
As effort went, Moey was definitely among Grilled's top performers, but not even his prodigious output came close to turning it around, with the Birds' attack being all but toothless. Where they were languid and frenetic before, Gennady Dvorak
and Rinor Isufi
were merely clueless now. It was quite a sight to watch just how far this set of former internationals had fallen, if only by how badly they misread each others' intentions.
Switching the distinctly uninspired Mohammad Ramli Saliman
out for Hariharan Prabhu
over half-time barely made a difference, and Grilled barely threatened the Zeneve goal, with Răzvan Chiorniţă skilfully marshalling his fellows against Grilled's youngsters. On the other hand, Koh's limitations as a forward were also beginning to show, but this was far less of a problem for his team.
After a mostly-unproductive half an hour, the Birds' fading hopes were dealt a huge blow, as Tian Yonghang
pulled up with a strained hamstring midway through yet another fruitless run. Tian was stony-faced as he passed the armband to deputy Yuki Irie
as the rain poured over both of them, an image packed with symbolism that will surely make some sports backpages to come.
The less said about Grilled's response, the better, save that Gennady Dvorak
did nearly grab a probably undeserved consolation late on, thanks to a stroke of individual magic that saw him turn Korczak inside out. Silviu Eftimie was equal to it with an impressive flying save, however, and the Birds were fortunate to be spared further humiliation as Marco Toncu placed the ensuing counterattacking chance barely wide.