Taste Of Twenty
It was the return of the Birds' most-played active derby, and they duly collected their fourth win on the trot against newbies are newbies, who did however take a deserved lead at home. While the participants were some way off the peak of their powers, the fixture nevertheless showcased a number of interesting budding stars.
Of these, newbies' U-20 international Seetoh Aik Beng had possibly the most enticing story. Famously eccentric yet hugely charismatic, he would earn his first youth cap as a winger against Costa Rica, but has somehow found himself in midfield and at fullback with Swiss club Soleure Gunners, who shelled out S$11.8 million. newbies in turn paid near S$14.4 million, and Seetoh is now most seen in central defence... and in goal, as with today.
People have learnt not to question too much when Seetoh is in the picture, and going by how newbies have lost just once coming into this match, it is not as if this has harmed them much. Definitely, there was nothing that hinted at Seetoh's unconventional path to the position, as he boxed Moey Xin Seng
out on an early high ball, in quite by-the-book manner.
As a whole, the game will likely not be remebered too fondly by most neutrals, going by how stop-and-start if often bogged down to. It almost certainly will not be by newbies midfielder Daniel Quong, who found his groin the unwitting impact point of Islom Davlatov
's boot in the ninth minute, as they swung to reclaim a contested header. Quong went off cradling his bits, and the referee booked Davlatov just in case.
35 year-old Raja Sahu, who had started newbies' previous league matches, would be called back into action, which coincided with Grilled's midfield imposing itself. It was coming, actually, with Yuta Nakakita
's brisk patrolling fuelling Grilled's ability to win the ball back, and Moey served notice with a nice lob running shoulder-to-shoulder with a hyped Kwok Wan Yau, only to have it dink the crossbar.
After Kalki Parvathaneni
had run the Birds' next breakthrough out of play, newbies would rouse their home fans with a great passing goal. It started with Curtis Dave boldly working his way out of defence, and after taking a detour in the middle of the park, Zhang Ruotian was freed from Cyril Künzler
's attentions on the left. There was still work to be done as Gene Filippone
closed the angles, but Li Rong Lee would do the trick at the back post.
newbies looked as if they might actually manage to hold out, for a while after that, but it would ultimately be a mere bump in the road for the visitors. Grilled kept the faith, and kept on with the probing passes around the newbies box. Florus Romijn
eventually settled for a corner against Dave, and from Künzler's fine delivery, Moey Xin Seng
came steaming in, to batter the equaliser home through sheer force of will.
The Birds weren't done, and pressed on newbies' questionable backline. In makeup actually very similar to Grilled, Roshadi bin Che Rusli's side had never exactly been known for shutting down attacks, and Islom Davlatov
's hard crack from the centre took all of Seetoh Aik Beng's reflexes to keep out. He hadn't counted on Hoàng Trung Quá
somehow hanging about, though, and the Vietnamese defender made it three scoring games in a row - after not having found the next in the two previous seasons, it has to be remembered.
Roshadi was unhappy at the turn things had taken, and neither was Seetoh, who was convinced that Hoàng had to be offside. Camera replays confirmed that Zhang had played him on, though.
Without too many options on the sub bench, however, newbies would have to make do as best as they could, with Chia Loong Ping trying to lead by example for the second half. His deep runs found little support, however, and it was soon back to the Birds knocking on the doors.
Grilled's new-found pace on the wings had come as a great relief to fans who had sat through far too many ponderous buildups, and although their wingers were clearly tasked to sit more narrowly than usual on the day, Florus Romijn
still found many opportunities to take defenders on. Yue Haoping didn't enjoy it, being unavoidably getting on in years, and Leow Jing Ting's failure to back him up correctly, led to Kalki Parvathaneni
making it 3-1.
Mohammad Ramli Saliman
could have had it in the bag, had his dinky chip in the 67th minute been slightly quicker, but Dave would keep newbies in the game with a lung-bursting retrieval mission. They then had a golden opportunity to narrow the gap, after Valentin Batâr
and Hoàng were left staring at each other, as Peter Haley tried the obvious. Raja Sahu saw what was happening, and put himself on a one-on-one against Batâr with the latter in a disadvantage position... only to knock it weakly wide.
This was a real downer for the home fans behind the goal, who were almost without exception on their feet in anticipation. Sahu appeared to barely believe it himself, and stood with arms akimbo at length, watching the ball roll miserably into the advertising boards.
With many of newbies' players displaying signs of exhaustion, they elected to maintain a counterattacking posture, which while strengthening their defence left them with nearly no outlets when they did get the ball. Chia attempted to fill the target man role, but given how far away the rest of his teammates often were, Grilled had the luxury of sticking two men on him most of the time.
There was little danger of a comeback by the 89th minute, but Djan Bacelar
figured that he might as well do what he could to help, and sent Tian Yonghang
and Christopher Mauget
on in a drawn-out double substitution. Canadian referee Pierre Blanchard had seen enough, and blew for time right after they came on.