To The Fore
Wingers Answer Prayers
The Birds enjoyed their best start to a new season since they demolished FC Barca Singapore 6-1 six seasons back, as they blew ArSenal U21 away to avenge their loss and draw from last season. It would ultimately be a repeat of the breakthrough 6-2 win from Season 65, but it would take a see-saw first-half, to set Grilled up for a masterclass.
Having suffered against ArSenal strike pair Isaac Altefähre and Étienne Höckelsberger for far too long already, Grilled had evidently decided to starve them out with a possessional game this time round; this realisation would have to wait, however, as Cyril Künzler
struck out by himself in the fourth minute, disappearing behind Jonne Matero after the Finn had given him an inch. The opponents certainly weren't expecting that almost-naïve directness, and it took some great goalkeeping from Alfredo Corrales to prevent Künzler from striking true.
Guido Leuckert wasted no time in making his readjustments, and the match quickly returned to the sort of wary circling that the pundit class had discussed at length. Neither side were at home with that, of course, and scattered opportunities soon presented themselves. 28 minutes in, Altefähre smartly bumped a corner on to the far post for Leo de Moreira to attack, but his dipping header skidded out off the woodwork, to the home crowd's relief.
Fortune then went Grilled's way, with Romanian referee Ioan Bonea awarding a debatable penalty, after Delroy Solomon brushed the back of Islom Davlatov
's head with a high boot in the box. Künzler sent Corrales the wrong way confidently, but this perceived injustice would serve to spur ArSenal on. They bombed forward from the restart, and Matero's last-gasp cross would be expertly turned in by Altefähre, for the equaliser.
The free-spirited ArSenal were back in the game, and it was Matero's turn to be the receiver in the very next minute, as a disorganized Grilled backline all but allowed him through to score. The Birds supporters barely had time to become despondent, though, as Florus Romijn
worked his way past de Moreira, to deliver a cracking volley on the go. That made four goals in as many minutes, which left the commentators admitting that they had forgotten to breathe.
Further, it was not over. There seemed to be a legit ArSenal break on, after Mihail Cioceanu had stripped Moey Xin Seng
of the ball just outside his own area, but the referee pulled play back after the ball had been taken well into Grilled's half. If the ArSenal players were unhappy at that, their sense of being robbed only intensified, as Cyril Künzler
bent it over the wall to give Grilled the lead once more.
Bonea booking Neeraj Muthyala
for a clear dangerous tackle didn't do much to re-endear him to the visitors, who tried to surround him for a discussion, straight after the half-time whistle. The match officials weren't interested in entertaining any questions, however, and they disappeared down the tunnel as quickly as possible, only emerging fashionably late to confirm Chan Ze Han
's entry for Yuki Irie
The newly-capped Chan demonstrated a different facet of his game in midfield, with his measured style allowing him to fill in for Yuki almost indistinguishably. Against this stable backdrop, Grilled's attacks would thrive, and a dazzling run by Mohammad Ramli Saliman
would make it 4-2. He began by pushing the ball to Piersandro Patarnello's inside, before collecting it sprinting around his outside, and a neat give-and-go with Kalki Parvathaneni
set him up perfectly for the finish.
ArSenal were hardly beaten yet, however, and Étienne Höckelsberger was an active threat, linking up nicely several times with Melanio Uon-Aso. Grilled held out with good hustle on the back-foot, with an eye on preserving the lead. They were physical too, and a mid-air nudge from Davlatov had Leo de Moreira falling awkwardly on his back. The referee would be indifferent to ArSenal's protests, coming as de Moreira was stretchered off.
Reserve centreback Maurice Tang was called in, but the stoppage had evidently broken ArSenal's prior concentration. Cyril Künzler
was again terrorizing the right flank, and he would get the better of Jonne Matero once more in the 76th minute, stretching play before dishing it to Moey Xin Seng
. Moey's attempted volley wasn't the best, but the strange early bounce that it took was enough to throw Corrales off - which was all that mattered, really. 5-2.
Moey nearly blundered another in on a solo run a couple of minutes later, but the goalkeeper was able to recover from the deflection, this time. Saliman came off for Chu Xin Lee
as a visibly-pleased Hovaness Noubaryan
sought to shave seconds off, and the newcomer almost immediately made an impact, as he got Jonne Matero booked with his erratic movements.
This led to another opening for the Birds, with Künzler delivering a majestic cross-field pass from the free, leading to Romijn lifting an inviting cross in. This was frankly made for Chan Ze Han
, but Corrales would meet the young star's header with a big glove, to the fans' dismay. The threat hadn't passed, though, and after a few abortive probes, Islom Davlatov
would breeze through to cap a very satisfying victory from Moey's assist.