The Birds recovered admirably from a horrendous start to the day, but it was still two points dropped, as ArSenal U21 closed off with a mini-comeback of their own, to tie it up four-all. This, combined with a smattering of injuries, favoured perhaps none but neutral and rival fans, who would have appreciated the package of high entertainment and strategic advantage.
With both managers keeping an eye on the secondary cups, the lineups at The Cooking Pot were not as strong as they could have been. Though Hou Yongming had been steadily doing transfer business in the past months, the core of this ArSenal side remained mostly unchanged, notably other than new midfield men Andrey Bozhkov and Jonne Matero.
The latter has been winning plenty of fans since his S$6.8 million arrival from FC Heimat Zossen, and while analysts have been divided over his raw abilities, there has been little question that his unquantifiable qualities were astounding. Though fast, Cyril Künzler
should have had him handily covered on pace; still, Matero emerged from the wilderness in just the third minute, to complete Piersandro Patarnello's move, and put the visitors ahead.
If this was a grim beginning for the already-stony-faced Grilled attendees, it was going to get much worse, as ArSenal U21 kept getting creative with their formation. Relishing in his - possibly unsanctioned - freedom, Matero found himself doubling up on the right side the next minute, and he found himself smashing an unstoppable bullet in off the bar, just like that.
This prompted perhaps the earliest scenes of leaving early that The Pot had ever seen, as ArSenal feted their two-goal hero slightly excessively. A crimson-faced Djan Bacelar
would command his disbelieving players to the sidelines as that went on, and from his gestures, it was more to get a piece of his mind, than for any tactical readjustments.
The hard love did work, and Grilled came out with a ferocity that had long been missing from their game. It didn't come without its costs, with forward Chu Xin Lee
hurting his right arm badly, upon breaking his fall with it after contesting a cross with Delroy Solomon. A pumped José Luiz Velho
picked up where he left off, though, and the Birds worked their way up to a rather-forced first attempt, hit from all of thirty-five yards by Mohammad Ramli Saliman
It turned out to be a good sign, and the Birds made to throw off the stigma of being two down at home, with increasingly-fluid interplay. ArSenal U21 found it too easy to retreat with a comfy cushion, and Neeraj Muthyala
found himself with only too much space to build a running start in the 23rd. None of the ArSenal defenders could stop him safely when Iman Eshrafi
's little reverse came through, and Muthyala duly planted a reducer past Alfredo Corrales.
And then the lead was gone. Just as their opponents had done to them some twenty minutes before, Grilled were unrelenting in attacking a dazed foe, and Florus Romijn
carved a swathe past trainee Charles Lao on the outside. His acceleration gave him enough time to swing back in before curling a tempting ball into the box, which Chan Ze Han
scored from with a solid full-on header.
The turnaround had ArSenal floundering, but they would adapt successfully back to their usual game rapidly, which made commentators wonder why they had bothered to deviate from it all along. The match settled into a degree of stability, characterised by Grilled's probing being punctuated by various ArSenal adventures.
On the balance of it, the Birds were in control, but they struggled to turn their ball retention into goals against a nippy ArSenal backline. Iman Eshrafi
didn't lack for invention or courage, but found Leo de Moreira impossible to get past, and Chan Ze Han
wasted Eshrafi's production when it did come, as he failed to stick his leg out enough to guide the low cross in.
Mohammad Ramli Saliman
would be booked for stepping on a defender's calf in his haste to rescue that one, and six minutes later, it would be ArSenal who would be back in front. Although they seldom got near the Grilled penalty area, they were always a threat when they did, and the deceptively-dangerous Patarnello would chip Valentin Batâr
neatly, after Isaac Altefähre got on Yuta Nakakita
's weak side to arrange the pass.
Undeterred, Grilled carried on as they had been doing, and it took barely two minutes for them to go level. José Luiz Velho
might have crumpled a bit theatrically as Kazım Çavsar put a hand on his shoulder somewhat outside the area, but Jamaican referee Andre Redwood awarded the free-kick over Çavsar's protests. The Turk's worst fears were realised, as Cyril Künzler
bent it in with impeccable technique with the inside of his boot.
The stakes were rising as most of the players were gassing from the sustained underlying pace, and Grilled made the first move to introduce fresh legs, with a recovering Moey Xin Seng
entering for Mohammad Ramli Saliman
. This had the intended impact - albeit without Moey's involvement - as Grilled saw themselves 4-3 up, as the unreasonably-prolific Yuta Nakakita
extended his scoring streak to four games, with another header off a Romijn delivery.
Sadly for the Birds, it was not sufficient to guarantee all three points, as ArSenal U21 reminded just how deadly they could be on the counter. The Grilled midfield let their guard down for a moment and were heavily punished for it, as they were bypassed by a succession of direct passes. Piersandro Patarnello then gave the backline the run-around, and Peruvian Melanio Uon-Aso was on hand to apply the finish.
The home spectators hardly knew what to make of it as the ArSenal players came together in jubilation once more... other than Patarnello, who had eaten a late challenge from the backtracking Iman Eshrafi
right as the released his assist ball. The Italian would not be on the pitch for the restart, as he was replaced by local playmaker Najib Hafiz.
Bacelar prepared his second substitution at this, with Hoàng Trung Quá
on for Yuki Irie
. Whether or not it was Hoàng's prior record of popping up with important goals that had swayed Bacelar's decision, the Vietnamese certainly didn't let him down. He might even have made for a fairytale finish as he put one in with the last kick of the match, but it would clatter off and over the crossbar.