Grilled Birds retained their S-League standing in a heartstopping ten-goal thriller against II.3 champions Chinablack, making it their fourth straight victory over the Orchard flagbearers. The Clubbers were up by two goals at one stage, but Grilled pulled off a second-half rally to prevail, 6-4.
Grilled lent little credence to reports suggesting that they sought to throw the match by fielding their strongest available team, sans Sid. Fan support, which had been notably diminished after certain league losses, was back in full force. The Cooking Pot was filled once more, with the Birds' very survival at stake.
Chinablack had proven themselves a truly competent team, wresting a Division Two title from the hands of such luminaries as Hattrick all the time, Chinatown United and All Stars Team. They had also advanced to two Singapore Cup semi-finals in the previous seasons, both in which they were put out by the eventual winners Grilled Birds; So it could be said that they had extra incentive to come out tops in this qualifier.
Sid's basic skills as a defender were commonly overlooked as he thumped unbelievable free-kicks in, but his solidity in tackles was badly missed in the nineteenth minute. Rottman put in a half-hearted clip on ex-England U-20 striker Niall Nelis, who ignored it and kept on a beeline to goal.
Bona seemed to have saved the day with a fervent lunge that cleared the danger, and left Nelis wobbling but on his feet. To the disbelief of the home crowd, the referee pointed straight at the spot. Sulaiman had saved a Roy Peoples penalty in the past, but Peoples laid it too well this time, giving the visitors a debatable lead.
Grilled put that behind them as Martinsson finished off a sprightly Quah run, bringing a roar of approval from the fans. The were silenced quickly, as tall Danish sweeper Niels Barslev was just too strong for Grilled's centerbacks, barreling through them to lash a scorcher past Sulaiman.
Sulaiman's day took a turn for the worse as Chinablack Tay Aik How nearly walked free from a crippling slide in on Fredgård, his caution coming only after some strong persuasion from the Egyptian. Worse, Nelis then made it 1-3 by flinging him at a Luís Rua cross, while Fredgård was still on the sidelines being medicated.
van Liere then took the game by the scruff of its neck, minimizing the damage to Grilled's morale by striking back instantly. The willowy winger crept in silently at the far post to meet Spirig's direct cross, and placed a delicate groundbound header just inside the post.
The match erupted in the 61st minute, as Grilled's persistent pestering paid off with Paullin claiming a loose ball in midfield. Dani Spirig
cut in astutely from the side and took Paullin's tap-on through the middle of Chinablack's defence before smashing it past ex-U20 keeper Mohd Zaharul Aiman.
It was Chinablack's turn to respond immediately, and Semprún won a free-kick at the head of Grilled's penalty area with a deftly executed change of direction. Roy Peoples needed no second invitation, and had Sulaiman gnashing his teeth as he bested Grilled's famously proud custodian by bending one into his top right-hand corner.
If the spectators thought that was the conclusion of a thoroughly captivating struggle, they were dead wrong. The hosts had one last magnificent burst in them, and in two splendid minutes added another classic chapter to the Cooking Pot's storied history.Ola Martinsson
, as might be expected, was the catalyst. The old Swedish fox had no speed worth talking about left, but the trickery that made him a firm favourite of copycat kids remained intact. Playing the ball languidly from one foot to another, he left the six-foot tall Barslev tottering uselessly, making the equaliser a mere formality.
The next minute saw two more Grilled goals, as Chinablack's otherwise immaculate defence were clueless against Grilled's fast-paced short passing. Bona collected his twentieth career goal before van Liere emulated Martinsson in scoring a brace, with a classy hook in from a narrow angle.
That sixth goal took the wind out of Chinablack's sails, and although Kek-Tjiang got a yellow card for deliberately getting into the way of Nelis, Grilled were never seriously challenged after that.