Grilled grimly stayed the pace with a road win over Geylang's Really McCoys, and seriously lit it up in an overwhelming first half, in which they nearly silenced the usually-raucous home support. The home side would stabilize after that, and in fact looked more than the Birds' equal at times - though they were never quite able to dig themselves back out.
If McCoys appeared slightly distracted, it was probably due to their involvement in the setting up of Hattrick International Real McCoys II, back in Switzerland; victories over whipping boys Singa Songo aside, though, it hasn't gone too well for them recently in the league, something that battle-worn Swedish head coach Fredrik Rönnlund has vowed to address, if to little avail.
McCoys' ambitions were evident after they had forced Grilled within ten minutes of an upset earlier in the season, and given that this was Super Lakhsa-Lorong 12, they must have fancied their chances of doing better. Rönnlund made a few changes to this end, with the experience of Agent Schubiger and Sopheap Som restored to the starting lineup. Russian striker Maxim Mosharov was something of a strange pick over the far more active young Scotsman Colm Britton, but given Britton's scoring drought, Rönnlund might have preferred to give Mosharov's cool-headedness in front of goal a shot.
Mosharov wouldn't have much opportunity to shine in the early going as Grilled seized the pace, much of which was down to Islom Davlatov
at last living up to his near-S$12 million pricetag. It was not so much his end product, but how he conducted himself, against a determined McCoys defence: twisting, probing, teasing non-stop. While he would not score this day, his machinations definitely contributed indirectly to the Birds' win.
Bulgarian sweeper Nikola Atanasov would have a busy day, with Grilled bashing the doors down. He would make several significant bodychecks before the 21st minute, when Chan Ze Han
ducked and unleashed a cross-body shot from the corner of the box. Eduard Frani certainly wasn't prepared for that, and did well just to throw a leg across to block it - but only for the finely-tuned senses of Hoàng Trung Quá
to pick up the block, and steam back inside to open the scoring.
This was a direction that McCoys had not been guarding against, with their attentions firmly fixed on Grilled's strikers. It would prove to be their downfall soon enough, as the Birds made good use of all the space that was left, around the penalty area. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
made an exchange with Florus Romijn
on the left side, and the latter's sizzling volley on the return ball was unopposed, to Frani's evident fury.
The Italian custodian would not have much time to be angry at that, as he would fall victim to another undefended effort from outside the box, just two minutes later. Critics might argue that he was expected to deal with those, but given how freely the Birds were allowed to shift it around on the outside, he could hardly cover all those angles effectively. Yuki Irie
certainly did his part, finding the bottom corner after Moey Xin Seng
found him with a crisp square pass.
The rout was well and truly on, even as the panicked McCoys coaching staff tried to make on-the-fly adjustments via Jaani Vehmas. Grilled were certainly not holding off and giving the hosts time to regroup, and they should have gotten a fourth, from Moey Xin Seng
's run-and-gun down McCoy's crumbling right side. To the hosts' great relief, it came off the post, and Urbano Cazzani was just happy to lump it somewhere, anywhere.
McCoys' fans and ball boys were in no particular hurry to retrieve the ball from the stands, which gave their team the organizational breather they so badly needed. The remedy was to tighten themselves up further, with Teodovico Bahamondes dropping to serve as a fourth central midfielder. Grilled's flow was affected further after Sopheap Som did a number on Neeraj Muthyala
, forcing Muthyala to limp off for Chu Xin Lee
. Som would be booked for the foul, but tellingly, his teammates appeared almost approving at the time he bought.
Three-nil down at half-time was surely not what Rönnlund had been expecting, before the game, but the grizzled head coach would make do, shifting his attentions to damage limitation. In their adjusted setup, it was Mosharov who was tasked with staying back, freeing Fabrizio Fornesi to act as an ad-hoc stopper, relieving the overtaxed Atanasov of a huge burden.
This reshuffling was extremely effective, to the point that Mohammad Ramli Saliman
's audacious diving header in the 53rd would be the only chance that Grilled had on target, for a long, long time. Cyril Künzler
's rushed low cross was an awkward take with Fornesi breathing down his neck, however, and Frani managed a solid if not entirely comfortable save.
The match would enter a sort of limbo after that, with McCoys having gotten their measure of Grilled's attack. In particular, their doubling-up on Florus Romijn
played a huge part in shutting down all those easy deliveries that had gone Grilled's way in the first half, and with Davlatov also constantly being man-marked, the Birds were not creating much of note.
Even the loyal home fans, who had perked up after realising that their heroes were making a fight of it, would find themselves weary of the stalemate after some time, though they would wake as one, indignant that Yuki Irie
had escaped without censure for slyly tripping Mosharov in the 75th minute. The wily Grilled vice-captain definitely knew what he was doing then, and a promising McCoys breakaway went begging.
would fill in for Hoàng Trung Quá
for the last ten minutes, which just so happened to be the signal for the game to pick up again. A frenzied sprint from the left saw Mohammad Ramli Saliman
bang an excellent effort against the woodwork, which would lead into the hosts' consolation goal. They would have the run of that flank for once, and Cazzani was quick to center it for the waiting Teodovico Bahamondes, who would duly beat his markers with some good old-fashioned shoving and score.
The Birds were not done trying either, and they would enjoy an extended build-up from the restart, with McCoys on high alert. Yuta Nakakita
picked his moment to shoot from nearly thirty metres, and Frani would be extremely concerned for a long moment, before it became apparent that the shot wouldn't go in. Referee Attila Gábos would then stop the lingering match on the dot, to no-one's objection.