Unbeaten And Unbowed
Lecoq Preserves Record
Neither Grilled Birds nor Changi Genius would get the better of the other in their league season-closer, and both could claim to have taken a number of positives from the result. For the Birds, it meant that they had the chops to duke it out at the next level, while for Changi, their determination to not be defeated shone through, as they put Grilled's initial energy under control.
It went without saying that getting points off Changi was a tremendous task, with only -Blitz- having managed that in months; not only that, the Birds would be without two regulars in Moey Xin Seng
and Yuta Nakakita
, who had to join the rest of the spectators due to suspension. But, with Changi due for automatic promotion, the stage was set for both contestants to cut loose and have fun.
The Birds definitely got more of that in the early going, fulfilling Djan Bacelar
's pledge to take the visitors down a notch. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
being placed up front and Kalki Parvathaneni
making direct runs from midfield represented a new equation that Changi were hard-pressed to solve on demand, even with the immensely-experienced Zacharias Hertl overseeing matters.
The visitors' defence would be breached in just the eighth minute, with Florus Romijn
bringing it up on the left, as was his wont. Hertl, well aware of Romijn's uncanny connection with Islom Davlatov
, made sure to shadow the Uzbek forward, but Romijn instead drilled his pass between Ivo Selestrin's stride, to the near post for Mohammad Ramli Saliman
to attack. Agustí Autet nearly got to it, but fell just short.
Grilled were getting into their full flow, with the large crowd gleefully egging them on; Changi were not helped by some inadvertent stumbling, and it became 2-0 in the 23rd minute, when Neeraj Muthyala
soared highest to nod Cyril Künzler
's corner home. The sky was the limit after that, but the visitors got their act together, and Chu Xin Lee
's snapshot being acrobatically saved by Autet in the 37th was as good as it got for the Birds.
The turning point of the match then arrived - Parvathaneni, who had been such a thorn in Changi's side, bursting forward from midfield - got caught late by Manuel Soroa. With Kalki judged to be in no condition to carry on, Bacelar weighed his options, and eventually passed over both Velho and Mottl, putting his trust in Tian Yonghang
It was hard to believe that the decision wasn't affected by a touch of sentimentality, but Grilled wouldn't have too much time to think about it, as Changi's resourcefulness saw them slash the lead before half-time. Making full use of the lull, the visitors' Wee Kim Yun dribbled his way upfield with the Birds still in flux, and Chua Yau How curled his through ball into the bottom corner with an outside-of-the-boot strike.
Sensing vulnerability, Raymond Poon tried to apply a quick cheap combo, as he angled for contact against Yuki Irie
the very next minute, before going to ground. Referee Mihail Burcea knew exactly what had happened, however, and an unamused Yuki was only too happy to haul Poon up to face his yellow card.
Grilled recovered quickly from this setback, and the second half began much as had the first. Watching his team struggle to impose themselves, Changi head coach Zlatko Rendulić appeared to toy with the idea of sending Lin Jie Li on, but instead settled for ordering his midfield line to shift forward. It was a bold move, and one that paid off, with Islom Davlatov
forced into a saving tackle in the 65th.
Changi were coming into their own as the Birds couldn't maintain the pace that had served them so well, partly due to Tian Yonghang
's obviously-reduced mobility. On attack, Chan Ze Han
's youth finally showed, as although he wasn't weighed down by the captain's armband, his decision-making as a supporting striker frequently left much to be desired.
This opened the match up for the visitors to make a real impact, and their equaliser was definitely a long time in the making, when it came. Edy Goldschmidt had been conserving himself all this while, and it was all for this one glorious rush in the 75th, with Chua Yau How on his outside. Goldschmidt would however eschew the obvious pass to flip it inside for his French partner Mathieu Lecoq, who made no mistake with his shot, to record his 24th goal of a very productive season.
If this was a disappointment for the Grilled fans, they nearly made it to paradise two minutes later, as Tian Yonghang
nearly conjured a fairytale finish. He did everything right in shaking off Poon to receive Davlatov's layoff, but his shooting ability unfortunately deserted him when it mattered, and he fired right into a grateful Autet.
With more than ten minutes to go, though, bragging rights were very much still up for grabs, and the Birds did their best to rescue their win. They came closest when Neeraj Muthyala
skewered the opposition backline with a pinpoint ball, but a retreating Goldschmidt proved his value in defence, bringing Saliman down before it became a real problem. Cyril Künzler
then hammered the free-kick into the wall, whereupon it was hastily cleared into touch.