Bernie At His Best
The Birds kept it compact against Benfleet Branch 2 in the third round of the Singapore Cup, and emerged 5-2 winners against their navy-wearing competitors. Despite the margin, Grilled were never entirely comfortable, and will also have to deal with losing key defender Yuta Nakakita
for the next two weeks or so.
Grilled had met Benfleet Branch 2 once before, some fourteen seasons past in the Ruby Challenger Cup. A whole generation of players had come and gone since then, and it would be entirely new lineups that would size each other up. Branch under new Polish gaffer Radosław Poniecki had transitioned to an unashamedly aggressive 3-4-3 captained by Taiwanese midfield general Yang Guanying, and the Birds certainly had enough of their weaknesses exposed against Kim Tae Hee FC for Benfleet to feel good about their chances.
Reality would be somewhat different, though, as Grilled again leant on the exuberance of their youngsters in midfield. Tellingly, Chan Ze Han
retained the captaincy despite Moey Xin Seng
starting on the left, but there were happily no signs of any friction between the homegrown duo.
In any case, they would be upstaged by Irish star Bernie Egan
, who would be let loose at centre-forward. Judging from his performance, it may well be his preferred position, going by how easily he gave Olli Torvikoski and friends the slip. Never one to shy from running at opponents either with or without the ball, Egan held off Torvikoski for just long enough in the 16th minute, to chip Chan's assist home with his off-foot.
would cheekily double Grilled's lead three minutes later to Alecsandru Antal's fury, but Benfleet had weapons of their own too. Yang and Christophe Véber made for a very solid midfield tandem especially on the front foot, and Kalki Parvathaneni
would be overwhelmed by Véber's physicality in the 21st minute. Li Chuan Seng provided support from the right wing, and caught Véber's forward lob just as it was coming down, for a brilliant dipping header across Massoud Dob
Grilled were definitely not having an easy time of it, misleading possession statistics aside, and it was all Yuta Nakakita
could do at times to maintain the team's goal advantage. 31 year-old one-club man Chng Jun Yun knew all the tricks in the book, and all but flattened Yuta after an aerial duel in the 34th minute. Yuta stayed down, and would eventually be carefully stretchered off despite initial Benfleet claims of playacting.
Hoàng Trung Quá
came on, and Moey Xin Seng
would rake the goalpost following an angry rush up the left. The match was close to boiling over after Torvikoski hacked Egan down in the 38th minute, and it was only thanks to the calming influence of referee Dominik Brockmann that half-time was reached without further incident.
Benfleet began the second half the more strongly, but they couldn't piece moves together in the final third, and would pay for it after twenty minutes of fruitless trying. Prokop Mottl
hadn't been particularly visible at right attack, but his movement when Moey Xin Seng
raced up that flank was as good as it got. Uruguayan defender Matías Clerici was caught in two minds, and by the time he was sure Mottl was covered, it was too late to prevent Moey's diagonal finish.
Tempers began to flare once more, and the game would turn choppy and difficult to follow. Brockmann, so often the darling for Benfleet fans with his constant calls against the Birds, turned villian in one fell stroke in the 74th minute. The ball appeared to have struck an unknowing Véber in the arm and marginally outside the penalty area to boot, but the penalty was given, and Gilbert Webb
expertly drew Antal to one direction before stroking it in.
Their faint hopes slipping, Poniecki threw on German youngster Alfried Ganzer on the left, and his boldness would be promptly rewarded. Granted, Ganzer was nowhere near when Ramón Noriega won a free-kick to the side, but he definitely made a right nuisance of himself as Li Chuan Seng floated it in. Chng's direct route to goal was blocked off, but the target man managed to flick it on for Torvikoski to slide home.
It was the Birds' turn to lose control, and Mudaliar and Kalki were booked in quick succession before Noubaryan and Moey managed to reimpose discipline. Islom Davlatov
, who had somehow managed to keep from being caught up in the fray, would nearly rifle a thirty-yarder in with six minutes remaining. Benfleet made their last throw of the dice at that, bringing Brazilian Amílcar Capilé in on the right side.
Grilled weren't about to engage openly if they could help it, and some rather cynical dumping of the ball out of play was followed by Moey's drawn-out exit, as time added on loomed. Benfleet didn't count on Bernie Egan
not being satisfied, or so it seemed as the Irishman smashed Grilled's fifth goal in, right as Brockmann lifted the whistle to his lips for the last time.