A Step Too Far
Grilled fell at the last hurdle as heimu XI found a winner with 20 minutes to go at Blackwood, capturing not just the match but the title as the Birds were left to rue what could have been once more. They were not short on opportunities particular in the first half, but the heroics of Italian goalkeeper Vittorio Lo Iacono sealed their fate.
With Spanish striker Tobies Turu out through injury, heimu XI started Stanisław Babul and Paul Pattrick Rentz in withdrawn positions, while Grilled returned to their favourite 2-5-3 with a full slate to pick from. For all the weight behind the build-up, the heavens were not accommodating, and they opened well before kick-off, leading to a wet beginning.
This could be seen as playing into the Birds' hands, with lu Zunwen
and Woon Shun An
both recognized as wet-weather lovers. Indeed, lu wound up to be a right hassle for Kostandin Hasllani despite being shifted to an unfamiliar position wide left, while Woon recorded the first shot on target, a vicious tap to the corner that Iacono miraculously reached.
The hosts were uncharacteristically restrained, and Grilled could continue pressing up unabated. The breakthrough came when lu played it in early to Tian Yonghang
despite having a clear run to the touchline, and Tian made the most of it by clipping the ball tantalisingly in between himself and the goalie, before just about beating Iacono to it.
The result seemed set in stone as heimu showed no signs of recovering even after this setback, as they hardly made to venture out of their own half. Ling Fuquan
got the only yellow of the match after a biting challenge stopped one of those few forays, before Chow Ying Lee
's excellent header was denied by another excellent stop from Iacono, who was all that was standing between his side and utter defeat at this point.
The home fans were clearly the happier that they escaped this period being only one goal down, but there was no indication that they were going to improve, as Grilled resumed their attacking intent from the whistle. They came very close once more in the 52nd minute, with Qassem Madaini
floating a free-kick only an inch clear of the top left corner, with the goalkeeper nowhere in sight.
For all these misses and saves, though, the Birds seemed to have done more than enough, especially after Ling Fuquan
struck his fourth of the season, a cheeky chip that few would have expected to come from the boot of a defender. The Grilled supporters in the away stands apparently though that this was it, judging from the wild celebrations.
Their illusions would be tempered in two minutes, shaken in five, and completely shattered in eight, however - that was the time that heimu XI took to fight back from being two down to going one up, as Grilled paid the ultimate price for their continued defensive naivety.
While it is often said that two-nil is a dangerous lead, just how treacherous it can be has perhaps seldom been illustrated so clearly as when Mike Randegger basically walked through the back two unimpeded. Ling was understandably hesitant to put himself in the way, being already on a booking and having just scored, but Madaini evidently hadn't gotten the notice either.
The remaining one-goal cushion was then destroyed through more conventional means, as Paul Obojes kept lu away for long enough to squeeze in a long cross that eluded Seytek Djekshenkulov
. German forward Paul Pattrick Rentz had time for only a quick bite at it, but it turned out to be sufficient as Dexter Stacey
had committed himself to stopping a low effort, and could only follow the lob with his eyes after it happened.
The atmosphere in the stadium had clearly shifted back over to the home team, and they didn't have long to wait for the all-important third. Grilled were by now frantic to prevent it, but the players, already immersed in an offensive mindset, ended up getting in each others' way as heimu moved the ball purposefully, building up to a through ball for Willy Hinderdael, which the Dutchman made no mistake from.
There was a fevered push to equalise for the final twenty minutes, but unfortunately this was a scenario that heimu have found themselves in all too often, and Grilled's panicked attacks were met by a calm combination of ball retention and frequent backward passes. Alex Fonseca
's introduction, when it came, could be seen more as a throwing in of the towel than any true attempt at saving the match, which ended with heimu champions.