The Birds enjoyed their second slightly-fortunate win on the road in a bright conclusion to June, as they outgunned a Rapala FC side, who are always up for a scrap, in a landmark 500th league match for Grilled. This fixture, played seven times, has seen an average of eight goals, which must put it among Singapore's scoringest ongoing rivalries; the tradition was kept up, as ten new ones were struck in a 6-4 win for Grilled.
Few had expected much less going by how the bookmakers had slashed the usually-palatial returns on Any Other Score down to even money or less, particularly with the impressive Joni Huhtamäki making his return after being put down by the Spartans three weeks ago. He Wenyang and Musa bin Abd Kadir too passed late fitness tests, meaning that the hosts had a full squad to pick from at Fisherman's Horizon.
Grilled's own concerns were not as easily resolved, as indifferent form continued to plague their players. The best that Niculae Stanca
could do under the circumstances was to move 32 year-old midfielder Abdul bin Jantan
infield, stick Shiya Shaahee
wide, and hope for the best.
That didn't look like happening as Rapala dominated the initial exchanges, with the Birds torn between being cautious and taking it to the home team. Huhtamäki took the choice from them in the 16th minute when he received the perfect welcome-back gift, his 110th career goal coming after Italian winger Tiberio Frizzi sped past Woon Shun An
on the right.
With continued defence no longer an option, Grilled bombed forward recklessly, and Shaahee's charge eventually produced a corner. That was quite enough as Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
converted on their first attempt at goal, with Qassem Madaini
's corner kick reaching him very profitably indeed.
The Birds skipper wasn't finished, and cracked the Rapala backline in the 23rd minute for his third league goal in five outings. It is a record that would make some forwards proud, and the ex-Saudi international can stand tall among them after promptly digging a sideways layoff from Chow Ying Lee
over Kuki Ruivo.
The home supporters could hardly believe that they had gone two down when Zhu Changchun
came around the right side in the 29th, and their agitation spilled over to the field, where Mohd Firdaus bin Rozi flirted with a red card by clattering Zhao Jing Wei
with no hope of getting the ball. Kimmo Hasa was lenient that time, and opted for a caution and long talking-to.
It was simply not coming off for Rapala, as José Alberto Nilo tried and tried but just couldn't find the space to pull the trigger. His hard work only paid off when he switched play to the other flank early, allowing He to swoop in and crash a drive past Edmund Kryus
Zhao was having nothing to do with that, though, and the Arrogancae returnee willed Grilled's two-goal cushion back as he forced his way past the last man with sheer grit. The finish was less than optimal, but with it still resulting in the man's sixth goal in seven games, he certainly wasn't complaining.
Rapala FC endured what was by all appearances a scathing team talk by head coach Irwandy bin Sarman over half-time, and came out even more strongly than they had the first. Returning to their original style, they had a third just-recovered player to thank, as Musa bin Abd Kadir nodded in controversially from Frizzi's cross.
Debate over whether the defender had used his upper arm had barely died down when Hasa again let his team off the hook by allowing Nilo to stay on after he had cut Madaini down viciously, drawing heavy protest from the Grilled side. The sense of injustice only grew when the Chilean, who had won every domestic honour in Bangladesh with Bangali Hunters, got Rapala's equaliser with a thundering blast in the 64th minute.
There would surely have been much recrimination had Rapala gone on to take it, but emerging strikeforce leader Tian Yonghang
chose this time to stamp his mark on the bubbling affair. Remaining unaffected by the rising passions, he outfoxed the home defenders with a few straightforward but expertly-executed tricks, and made it 4-5.
Nilo was game and attempted to pull Rapala level again with his exploits against a tiring Madaini, but his brilliant drive plunged onto the post, to his horror. Tian didn't let up, and three minutes later increased Grilled's lead as he caught up to a loose pass between Shaiful Bahri bin Ahman, like Zhao a former Woxingwosu and Arrogancae man, and Daniel Leaşcu.
The home supporters probably recognized that their last window had gone when Huhtamäki's lack of match fitness caught up with him, as he intercepted an embarassingly bad throw from Kryus only to top it with a totally tame effort straight back to the relieved goalkeeper. As insurance, lu Zunwen
entered for Abdul bin Jantan
to help defend the lead, but the Birds were rarely threatened in the last ten minutes anyway.