A Stripe Too Far
One Point Gap
The Birds had little issue getting the points from Young Tigers, but it was for naught as Scallop Soccer Team did what they had to, to clinch the title by a single point. Despite reaching the 30-point mark for the first time in five seasons, the supporters' faces at the final whistle still told it all, as many of them no doubt felt that the heyday of this Grilled side was about done.
With their final fate not being down to themselves, Grilled could only fulfil their part of the bargain and hope that things elsewhere went their way. On the surface, this was straightforward enough, as the already-relegated hosts had not been competitive ever since committing to an overhaul. They had few recognizable names beyond longtime reserve goalie Yuan Qibin, and Djan Bacelar
managed a friendly chat with Tigers head coach Camilo Fernández before kick-off.
They were barely done when Tian Yonghang
settled the visiting fans' nerves with a second-minute contribution, putting in Clément Meyer
's cutback from the left in a completely businesslike way. Fernández didn't look too fazed, having probably expected it to turn out this way.
The Tigers lads were gritty but woefully inexperienced, and were taken for a free-kick in the 15th minute after Eugeniusz Dondera was lured into going in on Chow Ying Lee
. The cheeky setup didn't quite come off as Woon Shun An
fired into the crowd, after which some sleek footwork by Lin Yeng Yi drew Zhu Changchun
for a yellow card.
That was just a blip in a game that Grilled thoroughly controlled, however, and after an unlucky miss by Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
, who beat Yuan but not his post, they were awarded a penalty by Wiemer Richter for a clumsy block by Alexander Visloguzov. That was converted with aplomb by Wong Ping Shun
, who pinged it into the top right corner.
News from Tea Lovers' Joint and Ground Zero had been positive thus far, as Yew Tea and -=Manchester United =- were holding Scallop Soccer Team and The Void Deck respectively in even contests. It got better as Valentin Bugaev gave United the lead from a one-on-one, and the Birds' supporters dared to dream as they entered half-time on top.
Given that the outcome was not in doubt, Bacelar brought Tian Yonghang
off at half-time, raising whispers that the Grilled skipper had been carrying an injury. Che Harun bin Sabtu
reentered with the armband and did a decent job, but the tide began to turn against the Birds as both Scallop and Void took the lead by the 60th minute.
The players on the field showed no indication that they were affected, despite the reports booming from the loudspeakers, and Zhao Jing Wei
got the third goal by the book, calling for and getting the return pass from Mohd Safri. Wong then beat Yuan with a monster free-kick in the 75th, with the Tigers' goalie finally having his moment after that, with an acrobatic stop from Meyer.
There was little joy, though, as Grilled's men recognized that it would all be meaningless unless Yew Tea equalised, and after Scallop's Weng Rusong put his side 3-1 up in the 80th, they were more or less resigned. Rashid bin Ahmad
was appreciated for a solid shift in his first competitive start for awhile by the away section, as was Gene Filippone
, but the celebrations would not be breaking out this day.