Green In Gloom
Jantan Bright Spot
The Birds plummeted to the bottom of the table after being schooled 4-1 by a new-look Shining Lights team, who have parlayed the S$10 million sale of national wingback Zabidi bin Katmon into two quality attackers in Frenchman Étienne Bousquet and Austrian Hannes Mayer.
Mindful that the Lights have always been exceptionally nippy in the final third, coach Han Lik-Tsun
took the measure of deploying Slavcho Tzonkov
in central defence, with Madaini and Jungui to come in from wide when required. This worked for all of three minutes, before Bousquet flicked the ball up in the box and off Madaini, at which the referee immediately whistled for a penalty.
The Grilled players were incredulous, given that Madaini had not been facing the ball, and his hands were by his side, but there was no taking back the decision. Dexter Stacey
attempted to distract Antonio Trielli with a frenzied dance along the goalline, but Trielli kept focused and swung it into the net without much ado.
This wrecked Grilled's plans of containing the home side and going for the winner late, although the midfield at least looked less vulnerable than it had been for some time. Lights were still the more dangerous of the teams, however, with Mohd Safri and Chow struggling to adapt to a two-man frontline. Mayer sidestepped Jungui to test Stacey with a breathtaking volley midway through, but Grilled's solid approach seemed to have given them a shot at overturning the deficit.
Those hopes were dashed in two horrible minutes towards the end of the half, as Étienne Bousquet endeared himself to the Lights fans with a flawless finish after being played through by Mayer in the 40th minute. The scoreboard had barely been updated when he added another from an indirect free-kick, and Stacey's indignant protests to the linesman that he had been impeded by several opposition players went unheeded.
The Grilled players were not exactly in a good temper as they headed into the dressing room at half-time, but came out of it rather calmer than they entered. No longer expecting a result, the midfield were able to hold on with some panache, and Abdul bin Jantan
's popularity contined to skyrocket after he barged through and reduced the gap to 3-1 in the 72nd minute.
That raised the faintest of dreams that Grilled could pull off a last-minute 3-3 as they had famously done at this ground last season, but there would be nothing of the sort this time, despite goalie Mazlan bin Meri limping off with a knee injury. Instead, the hosts were awarded yet another penalty in the final minutes, again well-converted by Trielli.
Han folded his arms and lowered his head at that, and as soon as the final whistle went, his players mobbed the referee to question him about his decisions, even as he beat a hasty retreat. That was of cold comfort to Han, however, who is surely now at the brink of a precipice.