X Marks The Spot
Chan Polishes Off Chance
In the long-overdue return of the historic Singapore Community Cup, Grilled's opening match pitted them against a club that they have somehow managed never to face, despite a combined ninety-odd seasons in the Singaporean leagues - St. Xavier's FC. The Toa Payoh pioneers have bounced between the third and second division without ever crossing paths with the Birds in league, cup, friendly or tournament, an oversight that would finally be corrected today.
The Xaviers side that trooped out in their change kit of white shirt and green shorts left little in reserve, and featured their starting partnership of Michael Goldynski playing off the eccentric Cristiano Patriarca. Austrian centreback Rupert Gangl - somehow their leading goalscorer in the league - would stand guard ahead of Romanian custodian Tudor Patache.
The Birds for their part were light on defence, with Massoud Dob
understandably not even on the flight out to Saudi Arabia. Latest signing Gilbert Webb
would make his debut at the unlikely position of left wing, while Chan Ze Han
and Vikram Mudaliar
were given starts in midfield.
They didn't quite thrive against Xavier's robust off-the-ball pressing, but to be fair the first half-hour went nowhere for all concerned. Xavier were trying to force the issue down their overloaded left flank, but it was perhaps too obvious a tactic. On the few occasions they reversed play out to club legend Haytham Gouda, Webb was ready and waiting.
was the best of a bad lot in the dire early going, but the Xaviers opener would come - as it often did - from an unexpected source. Nobody thought Iranian defender Mahmoud Arshpour much of a threat as he paddled his way slowly up the middle, and by the time Rashid bin Ahmad
caught on, it was too late as he turned on the pace.
Grilled would go down another goal just four minutes later, as Parvathaneni's attempt at an answer was turned right back onto the vulnerable Birds backline. Jérémy Tarin
bought Goldynski's dummy wholesale, and Barnabás Csendes swooped in to knock it past Krystian Rykowski
all too easily.
It might have gotten ugly had Goldynski's swerving strike also gone in, but Rashid put his head in the way, and Grilled were off and away. Parvathaneni's constant running finally came good as he cut past two opponents, but Neeraj Muthyala
still had a lot to do, when he picked it up. No trouble, however, as he pushed the ball between Gangl's legs with a filthy roll, before lobbing Patache for a gem of a goal.
That was just what Grilled had hoped for before half-time came, but Muthyala was hardly done either. The hesitancy that had so characterised Grilled's midfield play was nowhere to be found on the restart, and Muthyala would whirl himself around his marker before shooting straight at Patache... but so hard that the goalie couldn't raise his arms in time! The Birds had equalised.
The Xaviers team took their time to do some self-reflection, as the Grilled players piled on Muthyala, and they proceeded to stabilize the game with intent. 18 year-old Nikhil Sethi proved a stable pivot about which they built their attacks, but the lack of a true link between the midfield and forward line told.
There was certainly no lack of hustle, which came to a head in the 68th minute, in literal fashion. Flinging oneself into a diving header is usually risky for the executor and not the defender, but Goldynski inverted the trope by headbutting Gilbert Webb
in the groin, after 68 minutes. There was a general wincing in the stands, but Webb fortunately made it to his feet in short order.
Webb could at least point to that hit as an excuse for a very disappointing free-kick two minutes later, but Moey Xin Seng
made the best of a bad deal, saving the ball from going out by a hair's breadth. Most of Xaviers' defenders apparently thought it had gone out, allowing Jérémy Tarin
to nearly dribble around Tudor Patache. Tarin put up a half-hearted appeal for a penalty, as Patache got rid of the ball as quickly as he could.
Too quickly, as it turned out, as Muthyala retrieved it ten yards outside the penalty area. Wan Xin Lai failed to cut out the pass, and Chan Ze Han
- who had been all but invisible - brought it down with first his chest, and then his thigh, gentle as can be. Patache got down, but Chan scooped it over him to hand Grilled the lead.
Xaviers' French head coach François Goncalves sprung into action, ordering his playmakers forward, but Grilled were equal to their efforts. Leong Wan Kang
would take his time coming on for Islom Davlatov
, and referee Sigmund Kvamme blew for time right after the extra minute was up, to Xaviers' disappointment.