A player registration fiasco might have forced Robbie Football Club to play with nine men, but they nearly humbled the Birds regardless, as they maintained a lead into the eightieth minute thanks to the immaculate instincts of Zulpukar Rehim. Just when it was looking like Robbie would get away with an incredible result, however, Moey Xin Seng
planted the seeds of recovery.
Robbie Football Club had never managed to take a point off Grilled in the four meetings they had back in II.2, and from the controversy before the match even began, there was no indication that they could break that hoodoo today. Having bought heavily in the past week, with Alf Lamont, Nicolas Lefrançois, Poleg Lotan and Aldo Buendia arriving for a combined total of near S$35 million - even if offset by the departure of some surplus players, like the short-tenured Vincenzo Ponzi for S$12 million - it remained a remarkable shopping spree for head coach Gianfranco Musoni.
Lamont and Lefrançois would be cleared to start today, but what with all the hustle and bustle with changing leagues, some paperwork had evidently gone misplaced. There was a very heated discussion between Robbie Football Club staff and referee Walt Brocaar, and after a long delay, they would file out two men short, to their supporters' great puzzlement.
It went about as one could have expected from there, as the Birds shrugged and accepted the unexpected gift. Breaking down a Robbie side that were well aware of what they had to do remained no easy business, though, all the more with Cyril Künzler
for once meeting his match in Chilean fullback Damian Del Carmen Mellado. Few defenders have managed to keep the Pole under wraps for long periods, but Mellado not only achieved it, but further made it seem almost easy.
The tenor of the game was slightly confusing to say the least, as Grilled sieged their opponents without obvious impact. Figuring that time had to be on their side, they were satisfied with the bland launching of crosses from deep, figuring to crack Robbie's backline with quantity. It didn't go as they hoped, and Moey Xin Seng
would come closest after Florus Romijn
got up close and personal with the defenders.
The hosts were not merely playing for the draw, and they sought to eke out opportunities whenever they could, such as when Mieczysław Klimczyk purposefully waited for the tackle in the 27th. Valentin Batâr
might have saved Srdan Raičević's quickly-taken potshot that time, but it would be Robbie who broke the deadlock nevertheless, after Juan Luis Sáez was left unattended, and managed to squeeze a low one through for Rehim.
Their fans responded very enthusiastically indeed, as Grilled's falling behind despite Robbie's large and undeserved handicap lent itself easily to taunting chants. It was all the Birds could do to keep their composure, but fortune simply didn't appear to be on their side, as when Künzler's powerful free-kick came back off the post in the 39th. They hadn't contended on Moey Xin Seng
finally having had enough of that, as the Grilled captain forced the rebound home.
1-1 was hardly an acceptable scoreline considering the circumstances for Grilled, and Djan Bacelar
made to inject more firepower for the second half, by switching Yuki Irie
out for the more offensively-minded Chu Xin Lee
. Brocaar would have to handle a gaggle of Robbie staff waving documents and arguing technicalities, but there would be no change in numbers.
For all that, it was Grilled who again fell behind. What the hosts lacked in raw possession, they made up for in resolution, and what few attacks they began were tinged with palpable intent. A vicious thrust up the left ended up with another free-kick on the edge of the penalty area, which Srdan Raičević pumped the breadth of the field to Zulpukar Rehim... who angled an unstoppable strike into the top corner, from all of twenty-five metres.
If there seemed no way that the crowd could get any louder than after the opener, this assumption was evidently false, as the roar from this goal literally shook the stadium's foundations. Grilled couldn't help but appear intimidated, but their two-man advantage remained very real, and all of Robbie's zest would not protect them from slowly fading.
The end product remained missing for the Birds, somehow. Having stuck with conservative attacking tactics for so long, they were finding it difficult to change tack, and actually threatening Nicolas Lefrançois proved a tricky affair. Moey, who was Grilled's best forward by miles on the day, did beat the debuting French goalkeeper with a raking drive in the 57th... only for Pedro Luis Regueyra to double up behind to clear off the line.
What started as a leisurely hunt turned into a race against the clock as the hosts held firm, with Grilled starved of ideas. Mellado's shadowing of Künzler continued unabated, and with Romijn slowing too, there weren't many options to explore. Neeraj Muthyala
could only attempt to force unlikely through passes, leaving Bacelar reduced to getting Chan Ze Han
to warm up as a last wildcard.
Robbie couldn't escape reality forever, as it turned out, and just when Bacelar appeared ready to make his change, Grilled got the opening they had sought so long and so hard for. Regueyra's stamina finally gave way, leading to a hashed takedown of Kalki Parvathaneni
with ten minutes to go - but as tradeoffs went, a booking was just about the best he could have done.
Künzler fired this one into the wall, but with enough men now in advanced positions, Grilled were able to really turn the screws. Having abandoned all pretenses at anything other than preserving their lead, Robbie had all hands in their own penalty area, but Moey Xin Seng
chose this time to display a new dimension to his game. Never the most skilful of dribblers, he nevertheless managed to bounce his way past several opponents, before crashing a second equaliser into the roof of the net.
Of course, a draw would still have been considered excellent for the hosts, but the Birds were not prepared to relinquish points that easily. With the Robbie players clearly on their last legs by now, Grilled threw everything they had remaining at goal, and Florus Romijn
sliced through the left side to put them in front for the first time - 86 minutes in.
There could have been more as Grilled completely dominated the final minutes, but determined tackling, key among which was Srdan Raičević's on a breaking Parvathaneni, preserved the hosts' pride, if not record.