Not Their Day
Rashid Steps Up
Grilled upset Orchard giants Singapore Big Dogs in the Singapore Cup today, pulling out a 3-2 win despite losing Yuta Nakakita
after just seven minutes. It was 42 year-old Rashid bin Ahmad
who was called in to do a job after that, and the Birds' geriatric defence held out valiantly enough.
The Big Dogs were on a four-match winning streak, and had they fielded the side that had bested Chalet Enzo 3-1 on Sunday, the Birds would probably have been outclassed. Fortunately, player-coach Teng Jian Wai's focus on the league meant that their second team came out - one that included himself in goal.
Although weakened, Big Dogs' reserve team were no gimmes, and they did all they could to slow Grilled's enterprise in midfield. Veteran Polish midfielder Janusz Niewczas definitely wasn't holding back when he chomped at Yuta Nakakita
's heels in his eagerness to force him off the ball, and was duly booked for the infraction. Yuta would, as noted, have to hobble off with a gashed calf.
A card for a key defender was probably a trade in the Big Dogs' favour, but Rashid refused to show his age in his first duels with Quek Han Eng. The ever-professional national U-20 defender Mahesh Murthy then followed Niewczas into the referee's book for holding up play on a Grilled break, which would be concluded with Moey Xin Seng
's fetching near-miss from a glancing header.
That was a sign of the Birds getting into their stride, and Islom Davlatov
would open a couple of minutes later, as they advanced from the other flank through Florus Romijn
. Grilled's facility at stretching play was putting them in very good stead, and led to a rather lucky second goal, when Chan Ze Han
seized upon a basic positioning error by trainee fullback Hudson Matsumoto. Pierre Langelund had evidently expected Matsumoto to guard the inside, and was left vainly trying to make up ground on Chan.
The Big Dogs had talent to spare, however, and fresh Young Lions debutant Rajen Bhatnagar soon exhibited the physical gifts that had gotten him an U-20 cap at eighteen. Soaring over Islom Davlatov
to meet a ball hopefully lifted in from the middle, Bhatnagar further managed to guide it just right for the oncoming Vinod Modi, who banged it past Massoud Dob
on the half-volley.
The action would not die down after that, and it was Grilled who saw themselves 3-1 up next. The Big Dogs were clearly going for the quick kill after a quick turnover of possession from kick-off, but instead found themselves shorthanded on Chia Guang Wan's overhit reverse pass. Yuki Irie
of all people carried it half the length of the pitch before Chu Xin Lee
took over, and faked Langelund out before scoring.
Grilled's attacking drive faded on that, as they took Noubaryan's cue from the sidelines, with the Big Dogs allowed to sniff about more. Rashid bin Ahmad
was unexpectedly dynamic, though, and each time Quek tried to press his supposed advantage in pace, he would be reminded that he had been misinformed.
The second half began gaily with an extended passing sequence by the Birds, aided by Moey Xin Seng
's metronomic control of midfield. They went left, then right, and then left again in swings that lasted half a minute each, and Romijn would break the spell by going it the hard way, with an ambitious outswinging cross over the assemblage. Kalki Parvathaneni
would retrieve it for Yuki Irie
, who did better than he had any right to, shaving the crossbar while being rushed down from twenty-five yards.
It was their opponents who were the more improved this half, that electrifying restart notwithstanding, and Tay Ting Lee showed that he could make do with what he had. He mixed it up with the best while covering well for the less tactically-disciplined Modi, allowing the latter to maximize his roaming strengths. Grilled would find themselves presented with far fewer recovered possessions than before, which had a direct impact on chances created.
That was not to say that Big Dogs were exactly battering the door down either, however, and it was tough at times to see where their goals would come from. The Birds were, if not generating much, quite solid around their own penalty area. It would take a Pierre Langelund special in the 71st minute to shake this comfy state of affairs up, as the Big Dogs defender caught Dob napping, after Mahesh Murthy had played it back to him from almost the corner flag.
Grilled had an opportunity to reply immediately as they had before, but player-coach Teng Jian Wai did his part with a stylish flying save from Cyril Künzler
's usual free-kick. Still, the Birds turned out to have done enough to sit on it.