A week after tying the Birds at The Cooking Pot, ArSenal U21 condemned them to their first league loss of the season, a torrid 2-5 over in Serangoon, before a near full-house crowd. In doing so, one could observe that they had made their own luck in a way, with Grilled's squad sorely depleted after their previous meeting.
Mohammad Ramli Saliman
was, of course, ineligible after picking up his third yellow of the season, and the hole he left was compounded by Neeraj Muthyala
and Florus Romijn
failing their late fitness tests. It was no secret that they were unlikely to make it, having only returned to light training yesterday, but when taken together, this meant only one thing: Grilled were out of a midfield for the day.
With this fact staring him in the face, Djan Bacelar
had to take some extreme measures. The club's unwillingness to move Ang Leong Kum
on the cheap turned out to be a godsend here, as he returned to the inside. Tian Yonghang
, starting for the first time in over a month, suited up alongside him. Without many realistic options remaining, Hoàng Trung Quá
was shafted out to the left, while a 39 year-old Zhao Jing Wei
went into defence.
This was exactly as ramshackle as it appeared, and a second minute mix-up between Hoàng and Zhao saw Musa Bin Abdul Al-Nasser make his way between them. Fortunately, Isaac Altefähre was slightly slow on the uptake, and he wound up stroking the inbound pass tamely at Valentin Batâr
It was apparent how things were going, despite that early wastage, and it was almost painful to watch as Grilled's former stars - now well past their prime - toiled to keep up with opponents that they, frankly, would have blown aside in the distant past. Zhao, for example, kept Charles Lao at bay as well as he could given his condition, but there were times, such as in the 29th minute, where there simply was nothing to be done. Altefähre wouldn't make the same mistake twice, and darted in front of Filippone to lash that one in.
That sparked something of a reaction from the Birds, and they had their best shot at an equaliser right from the restart. Cyril Künzler
shook off his recent lethargy to put in a fine cross, and Hoàng Trung Quá
nearly extended his incredible scoring record, but Alfredo Corrales acrobatically kept it out. There would be a free-kick awarded after Najib Hafiz blocked Kalki Parvathaneni
from reaching the rebound, but Gene Filippone
blasted his effort about a foot wide.
Still, it was looking up for the Birds, with Tian Yonghamg beginning to string some interesting moves together... at least until the 38th minute, when it all came crashing down. Isaac Altefähre first made it 2-0 after Emilio Guzmán had outflanked everyone down the left side, and before Grilled had time to make sense of it, Estonian fullback Indrek Käbin sent in a cross from deep, that Hafiz fought hard to get on the end of - and so he did.
With utter defeat now staring them square in the face, Grilled were in dire need of a firm hand, and they got it in the form of Moey Xin Seng
. While clearly not quite a natural striker, Moey had been the main nuisance that ArSenal had had to face, and he came good in the 40th minute after an eyecatching exchange with Künzler on the go. Kazım Çavsar picked a good moment to slide in, but Moey had seen that coming, and timed his chip to coincide.
Given that it could have been far worse than 3-1, Grilled could not rightly have felt too bad about the half-time scoreline; the bigger problem was that it was not likely to get better, with Tian Yonghang
and Zhao Jing Wei
in particular certainly not match fit. Hoàng had been involved in trying to share their burden, by constantly rotating and covering for his seniors, but this was beginning to take its toll on the Vietnamese defender too.
Bacelar appeared to have been seriously mulling just putting Rashid bin Ahmad
on for Zhao, but given how Grilled needed an attacking impetus more than ever, that substitution was eventually shelved. So, too, was the entry of Islom Davlatov
, which given the state of Grilled's frontline, was a clear vote of no confidence in the Uzbek's current form.
Reality bore out much as expected, and there was little surprise when ArSenal extended their lead to 4-1, ten minutes into the second half. Ang Leong Kum
was well beneath his best too, as his wayward pass was collected by Piersandro Patarnello, and he didn't even try to chase as ArSenal launched their counter. Filippone had his hands full with Altefähre, who was chomping at the bit for his hat-trick, and it ran through to Leo de Moreira for a simple tap-in.
Moey and Parvathaneni teased with an electric run at the other end, but it would be the Birds' weaknesses which would be the most relevant. The end of Zhao's career was nowhere as apparent as it was when he lost out to Patarnello on a routine mop-up task in the 67th minute, and it was almost painful to watch a giant of his era humiliated in this way.
There was a little light at the end of the tunnel for Grilled after that, as a fine dribble by Parvathaneni led to him being brought down by Käbin, right on the edge of the penalty area. Referee Oh Ming Dong was of the opinion that it happened on the line, and Filippone lined up a quality penalty, to beat Alfredo Corrales.
This also afforded the Birds an opportunity to spare Zhao further trouble, by giving Christopher Mauget
a chance to express himself, and the French lad did so well that one had to wonder if they should just have gone with him from the start.
Although pulling level was rationally out of the question, memories of last week's happenings were still fresh in the mind of the travelling support, and the Birds answered their call as well as they could. Indeed, it just might
have turned out differently, had Filippone's wicked free-kick in the 82nd minute crept in after clearing the wall, but that would have to remain a matter of speculation in the end.