Nakakita Not Enough
One defeat followed another, as the Birds crashed out of the Singapore Cup in the fourth round, courtesy of II.4 leaders Oneteamtoplay. Freshly back in the second division after two seasons in the S-League, the Serangoon giants proved every bit as adept as their lofty ranking suggested, which their 5-1 league whupping of former tormentors Changi Genius would have suggested.
As Bacelar had conceded, Grilled were the underdogs for this one, but that didn't mean they were simply going to roll over - other than fielding their strongest available lineup, it was apparent that their wingers had been instructed to tuck in, in an attempt to gain and maintain a foothold on the game. Oneteamtoplay were a potent mix of speed and aerial threat, however, and by the fifth minute, Chong Ping Shun had headed them in front from Reese Bergen's sweep down the left.
The Birds were a jumble of nerves and vigour at this stage, leading to a series of highs and lows; Chu Xin Lee
was overwhelmed in the eighth minute, hitting a crazy backpass without checking, and was extremely fortunate that Hilbrand Osewoudt took a moment to react. On the other hand, Islom Davlatov
rose to the occasion, and showed no fear in taking defenders on. Italian veteran Billy Zucal looked distinctly uncomfortable facing the frisky Uzbek, and had to signal for assistance multiple times.
Grilled had a false dawn in the 17th, as Davlatov set Moey Xin Seng
free to fire a cracker that seemed destined for the top corner, only for Marcos Vadillos to somehow fly in and bail his goalie out. The fullback would soon burnish his heroic status with the Oneteamtoplay fans, as he doubled their lead after Yuki Irie
stumbled when attempting to rise for a clearance.
Just when it seemed completely hopeless for Grilled, they found a lifeline going into half-time. Their insistence on squeezing the play had made them predictable but not wholly ineffective, and their numbers game came good when Neeraj Muthyala
ran past the overloaded opposition backline with the ball. Scottish custodian Jake McMain enjoyed no reprive this time, as Muthyala knew exactly where he was going to place his strike.
That didn't represent any wholesale shift in the direction of the match, however, and it was only due to a combination of brave defending and good fortune, that Grilled managed to get their rest unscathed. They were back in trouble as Oneteamtoplay pushed hard from the restart, but Cyril Künzler
's quick feet and quicker thinking saw them survive what could have been a very tricky free-kick to deal with.
And then, Grilled were level. Having scored in his previous two outings, Yuta Nakakita
was brimming with the sort of confidence that only a wonderful conversion rate brought, and he heeded the fans' encouragement to have a go when confronted with a rare opportunity just outside the opposition penalty area. His hot streak was definitely still on, as it skimmed off Zucal's boot and past a misled McMain.
Celebrations were slightly confused due to an injury suffered by Moey Xin Seng
, who had taken an elbow to the solar plexus as he released the assist. Nothing serious, thankfully.
The Birds were increasingly - if over-optimistically - convinced that they could take this one after the equaliser, and showed a great taste for attack. However, this would cause them to be increasingly sloppy in possession, which would prove their downfall. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
lost out trying to turn his way out of a tight spot in the 66th, and mere seconds later, Hilbrand Osewoudt slotted it beneath Valentin Batâr
Oneteamtoplay's onslaught continued after regaining the upper hand, and Batâr only just kept the Birds in it, with his reaction save to Zucal's blasted free-kick through the wall. It was mostly for naught, sadly, as Spiros Kolokithas made it 2-4 after the Grilled defence finally caved to the pressure. Taking advantage of a tiring Grilled team, Oneteamtoplay's conditioning shone through, and a hard tackle by Vittorio Bich that denied Davlatov a golden opportunity, was followed by Reese Bergen scoring their fifth on a sustained drive through the middle.
The game was lost, but Grilled were not prepared to pack their bags just yet, and they demonstrated fine spirit to give their conquerors something to think about. Kalki Parvathaneni
hadn't had the best of days, but his testy diversion run was just what the Birds needed; Mohammad Ramli Saliman
shaped up to take the shot, but rolled it across to Yuta Nakakita
with Lee Jie Huat fast encroaching - and nowadays, Yuta simply doesn't miss.