The Day After
The team appears to have handled the disappointment fairly well, with most of the players already looking forward to the new season, which will see the return of some familiar faces, as well as the arrival of Robbie Football Club after five S-League campaigns, including a second-place finish.
RFC built steadily before embarking on their S-League run, clocking up 13 seasons in II.1 before going for top-flight glory. In bad news for their competitors, the nucleus of their side is still fairly young, national midfielder Lei Chunzhuo and his trusty sidekick Lin Meng How both having just turned 27.
They appear to prefer a brand of sensible football similar to that of the promoted heimu XI, dominating in midfield where possible and relying on a suffocating defence where not, in either case trusting in their wingers to make the goals.
In the other direction, old Jurong rivals the team that never was and newbies are newbies rise back from the third division. The former have bounced back immediately after their nine-season stint in II.1 ended with a seventh-place finish, and judging from Grilled's 3-4 loss in the exhibition game a few months back, they will again be a tough nut to crack.
The Birds' next fixture against TTTNW will be the 17th competitive meeting between the sides, if the first in 13 seasons. Star French midfielder Nicolas Marissal should draw attention, but if recent reports are anything to go by, it will largely be down to wing tandem Xinés Siñeriz and Liu Yeng Shun to create, while homegrown captain Jaafar bin Mahamad marshals their all-important five-strong defense.
newbies' youth are a regular matchup for the Chicken Wings, with Grilled's U-20s winning the latest instalment 3-1, and the seniors are no strangers to them either; they spent just two seasons in III.4 after seven in II.2, and many familiar names like the legendary Roshadi bin Che Rusli and the now-matured Yue Haoping and Zhang Ruotian will make their return.
Still as daring as ever, newbies continue to boast the 2-5-3 that some say Grilled have partly emulated, at times with dual wing threats in Peter Haley and Leow Jing Ting. Much will depend on Yue and Zhang managing to mop up in midfield, though, not to mention the health of team heartbeat Roshadi, now 36 but still kicking strong.
Spartanx United and Dodogado are the candidates to usurp CharlesCheesePie and JUtd for the fifth and sixth spots, and if SpartanX manage to do so, II.2 might have as many as six Jurong sides in the mix. However, with this their first attempt at Division Two, they will need an exceptional effort from the likes of Xing Zhongze and Mohd Tuah bin Mohd Zain if they are to have any hope of unseating old hands CCP.
Much the same goes for Dodogado, also frequent participants in the SG Super Cup. Like TTTNW a defensively-focused team, they are proficient in both the 5-4-1 and 4-5-1, and should they prevail will make a worthy challenge for Grilled's strikers. Forwards Dirk Mayer-Berg and Ángel Badillo, costing a total of near S$13 million, should be enough warning not to underestimate their goal potential, while local lads Hu Erjiang and Dong Rongyong take care of midfield.
Faced with this exciting slate of challengers, Niculae Stanca
confessed that he had upped his efforts to further improve his Grilled squad. "The two RFCs are certain threats, the Pies may decide to get serious again, and we can't count any of the others out either! Sadly, former U-20 winger Chang Dong Tse was out of our price range, but we'll certainly not be closing the door on any trades in the season break."