With their biggest match for a generation in three days, Grilled were not about to put any of their probable representatives in the firing line, and gathered a mix of grizzled oldies and aspiring trainees as a suicide squad to face the foreboding Young Tigers at Kandang Harimau. Their fears were not unfounded as Remco van der Ban
was sent off in a no-holds-barred engagement, from the first minute to the last.
With five likely first-teamers still on double yellows, Niculae Stanca
could not justify putting any of them on for this one, and with three points at the Harimau being dicey even with a full-strength lineup, he decided to effectively give it up. That said, it was not a total capitulation, with veterans like Qassem Madaini
and Abdul bin Jantan
partnering respectably-good new signings Nicola Vandeneynde
and Joan Cisquell
on their Birds debut. Of course, it was far from enough, and Tigers took perhaps the easiest double they have from the Birds in awhile.
From how they passed the kick-off to their back ranks before pushing it about, it was obvious that Grilled had come to play for a draw at best, but Aníbal Vieira's fourth-minute strike put paid to such hopes. The Portuguese striker has had quite the record against Grilled, scoring in each of their four previous meetings, and he kept it going by beating Bellamoli and Madaini in succession before slamming a grounder beyond Hovaness Noubaryan
The Georgian reserve goalie and part-time coach knew that he was in for a rough time, and although his backline tried to shield him from the worst of it, Tigers' overwhelming possession meant that he would be very busy indeed. Gerard Dinger for one struck a wonderful bender in the 16th that had Noubaryan fly across goal to keep out, as the Birds did their best to keep the scoreline respectable.
It was a doomed mission, though, and they caved in the 23rd minute in a corner situation. Having seldom worked together in a competitive environment, Grilled's rag-tag collection didn't know who to chase as the Tigers darted about after Stefan Rådman put the ball in the air, and Csanád Bertóthy enjoyed an uncontested run-up to power a header straight in.
Evdokim Telichkin and Charles Coiffier then missed open shots before Tigers went three up, as the Birds' left defence was completely ineffective. Bellamoli was a reluctant helper, and Qassem Madaini
had his hands full enough with Coiffier. Therefore, there was nobody at all to take Paweł Sucharzewski when he came through, and the Pole went on to stroke it classily around Noubaryan.
The travelling fans didn't quite mind, going by how they were singing about the Cup final throughout, and also because the stand-ins were not without heart. Remco van der Ban
for one tried to do too much from the left, and in his eagerness to draw Grilled one back, mowed right through Tigers' French goalkeeper Michaël Hautin to get at a stray lob.
With Hautin keeping his eyes firmly on the ball, he didn't realise that he had eighty kilograms of prime muscle coming straight at him before it was too late, and landed heavily on his neck. Unaware of the damage he had caused, Remco happily rolled the loose ball into the net, but it was clear that it wasn't going to count.
The oxygen tanks came out as medics worked feverishly to stabilize Hautin's head, as Remco's teammates quickly led him clear. Surprisingly, however, the Spaniard was spared a red for that, to the disgust of the home fans, even though Hautin had to be stretchered off wearing a mask. Backup Yuan Qibin took over the gloves.
With the outcome more or less decided, since Grilled certainly were not going to stage a Void-like counterstrike with the personnel available, the second half morphed into shooting practice for the hosts. Noubaryan made some great stops, however Coiffier did increase the Tigers' lead to four, on a marginally-deflected effort from distance.
Remco's time on the pitch finally came to an end in the 70th minute, as he cut Rådman down after the Finn had gotten past him, seemingly unaffected by the earlier yellow. This was probably the easiest dismissal that referee Lars Rumbold has had to make in his career, and one that the Tigers supporters were solidly behind.
Again down to ten, Grilled however weathered the last twenty minutes without conceding, and with little incident other than Leong Wan Kang
picking up a caution for time-wasting. There was moreover time for Winston Chan
, Lin An Chu
and Sandy Fu
to make their first competitive appearances of the season, as the Birds simply wanted the inconvenient fixture to end.