Head In The Clouds
It was supposed to be a simple slaughter, but Woodlands promotees Cloudz United instead matched Grilled goal for goal at home, and even went into the lead with half an hour to go. An astounding result - which would have not just given Cloudz their first win, but also their first points in III.15 - was entirely on the cards with how they were coping, and it required a massive awakening for Grilled to turn it back around.
Very few gave Cloudz much of a shout, given that they had lost all their league games by a minimum of three goals, after their narrow opening day loss to ~Pollen~. Rahul Patil's insistence on sticking with an entirely home-grown squad was perhaps essentially unheard of in this professional era, but it was evidently good enough to take them to the third division.
What they lacked in ability, they made up for with a near-unmatched camaraderie, though it hadn't nearly been enough at this level. Still, they were not entirely bereft of talent, with Thaddeus Luc, Mohd Kamaluddin Mohd Faris and Parker Wu often mentioned in discussions as to players that would be in high demand were they ever to leave. And then there was their 20 year-old star Sng Keong Hao, of course.
On Grilled's side, they took the opportunity to rest their main defenders with BCFC lurking, which gave Jérémy Tarin
and Mohd Jafni Abdul Majid
rare starting appearances, with it being the latter's full debut. The wingers were likewise kept in reserve with Prokop Mottl
stepping in, while Dan Seng
continued to start in goal with Massoud Dob
not fully fit.
None of that affected expectations given the hosts' unprepossessing record, but it wasn't exactly plain sailing for Grilled either. An insipid start characterized by Cloudz's stout defending developed into something of a drag, though Kalki Parvathaneni
did do the business with his dinky shuffle over to Tayyib Ghani's weak side to score, in the 23rd. That didn't raise standards overmuch, with the usually-productive Moey Xin Seng
noticeably underperforming. His disappointing miss 35 minutes in even led to a successful counter, with Mohd Kamaluddin scurrying down the right to assist Sng Keong Hao with a no-frills cross.
, who had been watching with concern for a time, would take the necessary corrective steps at that - in came Neeraj Muthyala
for the largely-dismal Mottl. This saw a marked improvement in the Birds' activity down the right side, and Moey would benefit through space opening up in front of him. Wu for once could not get back in position in time, allowing Moey to pick his spot against Mahmoud Mohd Faisol.
It was Chan Ze Han
's turn to be wasteful in the second half, with some questionable decisions reminding the audience that he was after all not quite twenty. Chief among those was delaying his strike in the 51st minute, when far lesser players would have done the right thing. Instead, it would be Mohd Kamaluddin who again punished Grilled on the breakaway, with Randy Lee slicing a brilliant diagonal ball to him as the finishing move.
The home support, who had all but filled the cosy Cloudz Arena, were beginning to really believe, given that this was about as close as they had gotten to obtaining a result. Their representatives on the pitch definitely picked up the vibe, and their heightened industry caught Grilled - who had yet to kick into gear - off guard. Chan would then again somehow lose possession from overthinking an obvious situation, and Thaddeus Luc would work for, and earn, a free-kick on the edge of Grilled's penalty area. It was floated in temptingly, and Sng caught it with the back of his head for Cloudz to finally take the lead, after over 510 minutes of Division Three football.
This appeared to finally get it through to the Birds that they might actually lose this thing, but Cloudz were hardly about to surrender their hard-fought achievement. Luc would do his part by blatantly time-wasting after being exposed deep in his own half, but the sacrifice was ultimately in vain. Jérémy Tarin
made his first real contribution of the game with a fine delivery just outside Mahmoud Mohd Faisol's area of influence, and Chan Ze Han
would redeem himself with a textbook header, front and centre.
With the outcome now teetering on a precipice, it was up for someone to give it a fateful push, and that person would turn out to be Grilled's Bilal Mohammad Harun
. An understated presence on the left of attack, with his main fault perhaps being not direct enough, Bilal confirmed his raw instincts by pulling to the outside as Moey's swerving effort came in. The goalie could only parry it partially and straight to the new Number Six, who duly stabbed it into the net.
Parvathaneni would close the match off with a trademark rush several minutes after that, bringing Cloudz's brave resistance to a wistful end. More than a few of the Grilled players could recognize what their opponents had put it, however, and there were a number of commiserations when all was done.