Grilled positioned themselves for a return to Division Two after five seasons in the wilderness, with a thumping 5-1 away win at the familiar-sounding ~The Flower Pot~. Vikram Mudaliar
utterly embarassed Alessandro Notarnicola in the early going, and by the time the hosts reset themselves, their visitors could no longer be stopped.
Mudaliar was, it went without saying, not quite persona grata
to the ~Pollen~ fans, having hit a hat-trick in the exhilarating reverse derby to salvage a draw. Grilled's key tormentor on that day, Reyes Aguilar, would sit out this one through suspension. Reserve midfielder Notarnicola would replace him in defence, which on hindsight was a disaster in the making.
The Italian's lack of pace had been exposed repeatedly in recent matches, and while he had usually gotten away with that in the middle of the park, there was nobody but the goalie behind him in his new post. The Birds naturally adapted by keeping it low, confounding Notarnicola's high centre of gravity. Mudaliar would beat him from a standing start in the fourth minute to score, silencing the boisterous ~Pollen~ support at a stroke.
Given that ~Pollen~'s only league defeat had been a narrow 0-1 at the hands of Ropelearner FC, however, the weren't about to stay down for long. While arguably without a true finisher, they had undoubted class throughout their attack, and Melchior Wuthrich would swing to the outside of Yuta Nakakita
in the 14th, before sending in the cross. Fullback Giuseppe Viazzo met it with a brief downwards jab of his head, tying the game back up.
It remained an exceedingly open affair - understandably with anything but a win all but ending ~Pollen~'s title dreams - and there was the sense that a total slugfest was in the making. Mudaliar would instead deliver what was basically a knockout with his second strike, more or less a carbon copy of the first; feint, spring forward, and go past Notarnicola before he had managed to even turn.
~Pollen~ skipper Wicher Burghgraaff comforted his teammate as the Birds whooped away behind the goal, but there was no hiding the fact that Notarnicola was completely overmatched here. Onat Otakçı didn't have many options, unfortunately, with 34 year-old benchwarmer Marius Trakimas hardly more agile than Notarnicola. Burghgraaff would have little choice but to stay behind, something that he was frankly ill-equipped to handle as well.
Nothing was going right for the home team, as Belgian referee Michel Robette had no choice but to award a penalty, as Kalki Parvathaneni
's skipping drive hit a divot and went smack into Albert Bollinger's outstretched arm. Bollinger might have been justified in insisted that he had no idea what was happening, but rules were rules, and Cyril Künzler
calmly waited for Kok Yi Chang to commit himself to the right, before stroking it to the other post.
Understanding that ~Pollen~'s defensive system was entirely improvised, Grilled tested it with direct balls whenever they could, and it buckled as they had hoped. Kalki Parvathaneni
wasn't picked up on Moey Xin Seng
's delightful diagonal lob in the 30th minute, and that fourth goal was swiftly followed by Chu Xin Lee
's banger from the left.
That was all but game over for ~Pollen~, and the cameras cut to a weeping kid in the stands for a second or two, before awkwardly returning to the main view. Otakçı and Burghgraaff were desperately trying to hold it together, with the shellshocked ~Pollen~ players only able to put it out as often as they could. Florus Romijn
could have punished them further with a raid along the edge of the penalty area right before half-time, but he lifted it high.
Many of the home team looked unable to drag themselves back to the dressing room when the referee finally put them out of their misery, but to their credit, they recovered themselves successfully. Not that it mattered too much, with Mudaliar and Kalki happy to keep them honest at the back. It appeared as if an unspoken truce had been struck, with ~Pollen~ not pressing too hard, if the Birds played it about defence.
It was a deal that Grilled were willing enough to take, excepting a few breaches of conduct, which however went nowhere for want of support. Islom Davlatov
for one wasn't entirely satisfied with the status quo after coming on for Neeraj Muthyala
on the hour, but he too settled into the comfortable routine, after awhile.
Their best chance of the second half was probably Künzler's decisive cut to the inside in the 67th, which was eventually dragged wide. ~Pollen~ honestly never looked like overcoming their four-goal disadvantage, but they could have restored some pride from their slick passing pattern, five minutes later. Albert Bollinger was presented with a golden opportunity, having lost Gilbert Webb
, but he smashed the ball way too haphazardly.
That was about it as far as excitement went, and Chan Ze Han
knew what he was expected to do, after taking over from Mudaliar for the last ten minutes - slow the game down. ~Pollen~ could hardly muster an objection, and the Birds would cruise to a magnificent away result.