Paying For Laxity
frunzelax dumped the Birds out of the Merlion Cup under a blazing sun, as Turkish centreforward Sertaç Özbey enjoyed a perfect day - perhaps one of his best in a frunzelax shirt. The 24 year-old electrified the stadium - and silenced the Grilled fans - with a great hat-trick by the 35th minute, after which the Birds were left chasing the wind.
Having just gotten their first taste of Division Two, the successors of former Singapore Cup shampions All Stars Team had recruited strongly towards the end of last season, bringing the experienced Emiliano Bastioni, Hélder Afonso Silva Novais and Brian Obuya in for a total of some S$11 million. All of them would feature today as Romanian head coach Costin Căldăraş continued tinkering to find his best setup, currently being built around the local strike duo of Wong Pin Choon and Jessy Yoon.
The two were renowned for their pace on the front foot, a reputation that was only exceeded when frunzelax bolted up the left in the fifth minute. Stefanis Zimnis had made good ground against Brian Reddy
- who started as captain with Federico Parada
suspended - but the decisive last burst would be supplied by Wong against a slow-turning Aw Keng Chuan
. Mohd Marzuki Khairul
knew what was coming, but couldn't get in front of Sertaç Özbey in time, to prevent the obvious tap-in.
Grilled found themselves with a dilemma now with no easy way past a midfield sitting deep, what more with Ben Erik Hüser dedicated to cleaning house. They had no option but to try, but this left them only too vulnerable once frunzelax regained the ball. Neither of Grilled's defenders could quite keep up with the sheer pace on frunzelax's frontline, which left Özbey only too free to pick his spot against Dimitris Germanakos
in the 21st minute, for two-nil.
It would get worse, as the Birds saw their confidence gradually sapped by an inability to impress themselves. The Grilled midfield weren't used to being suppressed to this extent, and it would show with a multitude of unforced errors starting to show their ugly heads. Chad Thach
didn't check whether Damian Hutter
was ready when putting it back in the 35th, which gifted Özbey his hat-trick on a collected rounding of Germanakos.
, who had been one of Grilled's best performers in recent weeks, would finally explode at that, and he was lucky not to be sent off straight for a vicious biting tackle on Romanian defender Adrian Ceparu. The frunzelax support would whistle at the referee for that decision, as Tokarz's teammates hustled him from the scene of the crime.
Grilled improved after the interval, although three goals was always a heck of a deficit to make up. They were at least advancing on the opposition goal, though, something that they had seldom managed in the previous half. Tokarz was one of the most hardworking in that respect, and he appeared to have done it with a deceptive lob in the 61st minute the eluded French custodian Chadi Selawi... only to have it brush the top of the crossbar.
That did provide sufficient warning for Căldăraş to introduce some fresh legs, and Yuvraj Sharma would come on for the 36 year-old Hüser. Perhaps encouraged by the realization, the Birds would be urged on by Reddy to push before Sharma got acclimatized, which had Chad Thach
booked in the intensification. Still, the gambit did work, and Mohd Marzuki Khairul
slashed one home after a sizzling set of passes, to provide some hope.
Said hope would vanish almost as quickly as it arrived, unfortunately, as frunzelax dragged out their next substitution - Pili Keter for Emiliano Bastioni - to temper Grilled's fire. Some fans might wonder at what could have happened, had Phua Ming Xin
's thunderbolt in the 74th minute not been met by Selawi; it was a drive of rare power hit true on Reddy's skimmed pass from the left, and Selawi would be down for some seconds from the impact.
It all went up in smoke just three minutes later, however, when Orest Tokarz
was caught dealing out a snide hack at Sharma's calves from behind. He had already been living on borrowed time, and there was no way he was going to escape a second yellow for this - which also effectively meant the end of Grilled's challenge.