No Inch Ceded
Herron Holes Up
Grilled knew what was coming, but were powerless to counter Herron's expected defend-in-deep-and-counterattack style with their strikers suffering a confidence crisis. Grilled banged their heads against Herron's four man backline as they strove to pull further away at the top thanks to Marnix Westerhof's 39th minute goal. Only van Liere's clinical second-half finish saved the Birds, and ended Herron's nine game winning streak.
Herron entered the Cooking Pot four points ahead of all challengers, but an even all-time record against the Birds. Grilled had little fear of Singapore's most successful team, having achieved an impressive 7-1 aggregate score against Herron in their two S-League fixtures last season.
It was a rejuvenated Herron this time, though, as the six-time S-League victors traded wisely in the preceding months. Gone were rising stars such as Othman bin Ib Berahim and Atze Preukschat, and the S$4.5 million windfall from stellar academy youngster He Shih Kuan helped bring in the proven talents of Peng Phong and Marnix Westerhof at bargain basement prices.
Herron and Grilled had clawed their way to the top two spots in the table through their stingy defences, tied for the best in the top flight. It followed that street talk was of a low-scoring draw, a prediction that would prove accurate.
The visitors came out in their alternate 4-3-3 formation, a lineup that promised to go over the scanty midfield with high balls to the forward line. Target man Florian Jähnisch was a terror in the air, especially combined with the still searing pace of ex-national striker Shu Chit-Fu.
Grilled though had the central area all sewn up, and subjected the opponent half to constant bombardment until Richard Ashton relieved the overbearing pressure with a surprise wonder strike that zipped dangerously past Grilled's left hand post.
Grilled found the going tough against a quality back four, with Bona rueing a glaring 33rd minute miss after van Liere had worked his way slowly up the right. The Dutch winger must have felt doubly aggrieved as he shimmied by Gábor Peto again two minutes later, only for Kadak to screw it up the second time.
The Birds were virtually encamped in Herron's half when an optimistic Paullin blast was charged down by Haupai. The deflection covered a lot of ground and bounced kindly for Westerhof, who barged past Fredgård to squeeze a grounder between Sulaiman and the far post. 1-0 to Herron in the 39th minute.
Grilled would not take that lying down, and continued moving the ball between the flanks after the restart. They finally got their break when Quah Han Kok
showed Kjell Askenbrant a clean pair of heels and spread a hanging outswinger to the far post. There, it was met by van Liere, who although not known as a natural header of the ball got a powerful specimen into Abd Rauf Mohd Nadzir's top corner.
With the match up for grabs once more, Herron came close to exploiting the holes opening up in the Grilled defence. Both Shu Chit-Fu and Nie Yong-chul were not far away with their clever attempts in the 70th and 76th minutes respectively, as Shu in particular kept getting behind the Bona-Fredgård pairing.
Quah then took a nasty, and embarrasing, tumble as the rain-soaked pitch was torn up by eighty minutes of persistent stud action. He recovered quickly, though, and managed to prod it on to Paullin before falling on his face once more. Martinsson however hesitated just a little too long when presented with the unexpected chance, and Kadak made the opposite mistake of pulling the trigger too soon as he skied Martinsson's blocked shot.
In the end, it was an unsatisfying draw that maintained the status quo, at least until Cantik FC's match against a sinking Team Singapore ended 4-0 in their favour a couple of minutes later, confirming their overhauling of Grilled into second place on goal difference.