In a historic 26th meeting with newbies in newbies, where they pulled level with the mythical Herron in number of competitive matches played against Grilled Birds, they achieved only the second draw ever recorded in this fixture, and the first in over twenty seasons. The Birds have to see it as two points dropped instead of one earned, however, after being three goals up going into the final ten minutes.
The Cooking Pot has always been up for a good old Auld Derby, and going by recent statistics, the home fans had much reason to be confident - four straight wins over newbies entering this game, and eight in the last nine. newbies gaffer Sim Kian Eng didn't seem at all intimidated as he chatted with new Grilled head coach Hovaness Noubaryan
, though, and with two current international defenders in Wong Long Kok and Guan Wen Jin, it was far from a given that the Birds would find a way through as easily as before.
Or so that was the narrative before kick-off. Instead, a little over four minutes in, Florus Romijn
delivered a whirling cross into the box from deep, avoiding Guan by not bothering to venture further down the wing. The dip on the ball caught the newbies defence unprepared - but not Chan Ze Han
, who met it with the tip of his boot, for a worldie of a goal.
That definitely brought the crowd alive, as Chan celebrated finally getting going in the league. Young newbies captain Kwok Wan Yau calmly imposed himself in midfield in the aftermath, stemming the tide, and Grilled were silenced until the 23rd minute, when Moey Xin Seng
was unlucky to see his clipped lob graze the crossbar. And then, newbies were level; Valentin Batâr
saved magnificently from Eric Johnson's point-blank header, but couldn't stop the second attempt as Wong Long Kok seized the opportunity.
The match was beginning to take on the devil-may-care vibe that had characterized so many previous meetings, and the Birds concentrated their powers on the right, tying men up on that flank as Cyril Künzler
quietly peeled off into the middle. Yuta Nakakita
understood and slung it cross to him, and Künzler had Seetoh Aik Beng grasping at thin air, as he expertly curled the ball over the former Singapore U-20 goalie with the outside of his boot.
Seetoh had his hands full as he saved another from Moey - who definitely felt that it was through - in the very next minute. newbies never quite relinquished their attacking efforts, but the bare fact was that Grilled were dominating midfield on their own ground. Their big off-season signing from Costa Rica, Eric Johnson, tried to help out by dropping back, but Yuki Irie
shadowed him only too well.
The visitors were nevertheless solid enough to give Seetoh long periods of boredom, as Wong Long Kok proved more than a match for any particular Grilled forward. The Birds stood a better chance in dynamic changes of play, such as in the 54th minute, when Romijn hustled the ball off a dithering Gan Seng An. Chan Ze Han
let the cross run past him, and was mollified as Islom Davlatov
picked it up to score at the far post.
Mohammad Ramli Saliman
was beginning to really shine, as he marked his landmark fiftieth league game with Grilled. With legs tiring, his sparse style granted him an advantage, especially against the willing but not very agile Guan. Although his eye-catching 59th minute twisting of Guan's ankles didn't result in a goal, Saliman would come good after Chu Xin Lee
's arrival, slashing through to make it 4-1.
The home crowd could be forgiven for thinking the win in the pocket, as Grilled continued pressing their old foes back; newbies did get one back through Gan Seng An off a Sunday league-type goalmouth melee in the 80th minute, but coming as it did against the overall flow, few thought too much of it - especially with Chan Ze Han
then coming within inches of a fifth, again exposing Guan's vulnerability to sleek footwork.
Grilled would finally wake up, as some sloppy passing from Moey left Brendan Pham free with the ball, just outside the Birds' penalty area. With numbers on their side as they chased the game, newbies presented plenty of outs for Pham, and he picked Gan Seng An running in from the right. An excellent choice, it turned out, as Gan lobbed Batâr magnificently without breaking stride.
Now on high alert, the Birds however vacillated between hunkering down and finding a margin of safety, and apparently resolved on the latter. To be fair to them, that was what the supporters wanted too, and Florus Romijn
made his way down the left, with half the team in support. Islom Davlatov
got his nose in front of Wong Long Kok for once, and the stadium erupted as his drive rippled the net... only later to realise that it had done so from the outside.
Seetoh wasted no time in restarting the game, and newbies would deliver a dagger to the heart on their next possession. Seldom assured without the ball, Grilled tried way too hard to intercept newbies' passes, and instead found themselves undermanned. Johnson bore down on goal with Hoàng Trung Quá
fighting to keep up, and unselfishly rolled it over to Rolando Gaztelu at the last moment, taking both Hoàng and Batâr out of the equation.
That brought absolute pandemonium, as someone in the visiting section couldn't keep from lighting flares at that most unlikely of equalisers. Grilled's players were shattered and couldn't quite hide it, as there were more than a few fingers pointed, in the aftermath of the newbies goal. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
for one didn't keep his emotions under control, as he leapt recklessly into a tackle on Martin Tung right after the restart, practically begging to be booked.
Dutch referee Tom Oster sensed rightly that things were on the verge of getting out of hand, and took his time talking to players on both sides. It didn't help. Barely had he put the whistle to his lips to re-initiate the action, when Moey Xin Seng
all but flew into Peh Ting Hao, as Peh set himself to receive the free-kick.
Moey hurt himself far worse than Peh, as it turned out, and the Grilled skipper had to endure the indignity of being carded on his stretcher. This necessitated a shuffle, with Prokop Mottl
entering the fray and Hoàng taking over the armband, but neither all this nor one last gamble on Dante Tran
brought the salvation that Grilled desired.