New arrivals ~Pollen~ had put in their application to become Grilled's latest derby downers, but a mammoth effort by Vikram Mudaliar
- perhaps the Birds' greatest pure striking display in many a season - saw them secure a draw from three goals down.
Another name echoed about The Cooking Pot for the first half-hour, though, and it was that of ~Pollen~'s Spanish playmaker Reyes Aguilar. A celebrated streak scorer, he had last appeared on the scoresheet with a hat-trick last month against East Coast Warriors, and it sure appeared to be his day again today. Persistent to a fault, he chased Chu Xin Lee
across half the breadth of the field, and went on to score after Chu unwisely attempted to turn right back in his direction.
That meant that the visitors were one up after just ten minutes, and another Aguilar contribution would be forthcoming in the next minute. Apparently not having learnt their lesson, it was Yuta Nakakita
this time who tried to be too casual in shaking off Melchior Wuthrich, and the Swiss striker made it very awkward for the defender indeed. A bad touch then saw the ball bounce clear and very nicely for Aguilar, who gave Massoud Dob
no chance with a thunderous strike whilst obscured by the tussling duo.
The home support were shellshocked, and ~Pollen~ definitely smelt blood. Aguilar was in the thick of everything now, and on another occasion he might have smartly dispossessed Chan Ze Han
in Grilled's six-yard box to collect a third. Chan, whether consciously or not, accelerated at the last instant, and was dramatically swept off his feet. Even Argentine referee Alejandro Víctor Nasjleti, who had laid an easy hand on the match thus far, couldn't let that go.
The yellow card barely slowed Aguilar as he set Ramy Mansoor Al-Rashdy up for a raking third goal just minutes after, but Grilled's apparently-unavoidable doom would be avoided by the irrepressible Spaniard's premature departure. His frentic style finally caught up with him when he hit the ground without managing to draw his arm in, and all concerned stopped play immediately at how unnaturally his elbow got twisted.
A long stoppage followed, and it was Grilled who got off to a better start this time, in a sign of things to come. Trainee forward Maël Legret was nowhere as effective as Aguilar in midfield, and after the Birds finally managed to craft a promising pattern for once, Mudaliar exploded past Klaudiusz Kraśnicki to make it 1-3. ~Pollen~ kept their head, however, and Lilian Iolea restored their three-goal advantage immediately after, with Moey Xin Seng
booked for a reckless lunge on Gerardo Albertario after he had released the assist.
It was sure looking dark for the Birds, who had to trudge off under the stony gaze of Hovaness Noubaryan
, who tellingly watched them come off with arms folded. With ~Pollen~ quite the defensive powerhouse despite their ostensible formation, and Kok Yi Chang hardly bothered save by Mudaliar's lone goal, the odds were stacked against Grilled staging a meaningful comeback.
The first fifteen minutes did little to shake this line of thought, as Dutch skipper Wicher Burghgraaff handled what few Grilled thrusts occured with class. The Birds were just waiting for Yuki Irie
's arrival, so it happened, and they made it 2-4 with 62 minutes played. There wasn't much artistry involved as Vikram Mudaliar
simply ran onto a good pass slung fifty yards forward by Yuki, but the crowd would have taken anything at this point.
~Pollen~ looked uncharacteristically vulnerable at that, with goalkeeper Kok Yi Chang remonstrating with his defence, and Grilled weren't letting up. Islom Davlatov
would be headed off by a swarm of ~Pollen~ backs two minutes later, but that just opened the left side for Kalki Parvathaneni
to swing by. Kraśnicki was hesitant to put himself before a Parvathaneni in full flight, and that moment of indecision was enough for the Grilled No. 37 to sidestep him, before drilling an excellent shot into the bottom corner with his weaker foot.
The match would bear no resemblance to its earlier appearance by now, as Grilled battered their visitors mercilessly, with the throaty full-voiced agreement of their supporters. Islom Davlatov
would be the fulcrum as he slipped gracefully into a link-up role, and it would be ~Pollen~ who were scrambling for answers at that.
It couldn't last, and Grilled earned their much-awaited equaliser in the 73rd. If Aguilar had owned with his attacking movement before, there was no question that this mantle had passed to Vikram Mudaliar
, who was never shy about taking all comers on. Having dropped a little off to the left, he would nudge past Albertario, before weaving around Velázquez and Kraśnicki in sequence en route to a highlight reel finish.
The only uncertainty after this was whether the Birds could ride the wave to a triumphant conclusion, but ~Pollen~ dug in hard, and both teams would have to be content with a credible draw in this second round of league fixtures.