Grilled passed up a golden opportunity to make up ground on the leaders, as they allowed Pearl Divers to nick a late equaliser at Ballota Stadium. The shared point would be disappointing to all parties, with Divers yet to collect their first league victory and the Birds still stuck in their away hoodoo, but it was perhaps the right outcome for a battle in which the Grilled players gave a glimpse of their darker natures.
While Divers head coach Nechifor Gherman had come under fire following two straight defeats, he had little option but to stick with a 4-5-1, though with countryman Marian Mungiu in for the suspended Rashid Postnikov at the tip. Grilled for their part indulged in a spot of rotation, with Frenchman Clément Meyer
raised to the starting lineup after some encouraging displays as a stopper, with vice-captain Zhao Jing Wei
and Lee Lee Hao
stretching their legs on the bench.
Though Meyer clearly gave it his all, the Birds were slightly awkward starting out, perhaps due to being unaccustomed to the drier conditions at the Ballota. Eighteen minutes passed before Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
got one on target, and even that nearly came back at them as former national youth goalie Manzoor Azwira Mohd Hassan caught it and kickstarted a counterstrike that Mosè Corghi put inches wide.
The man-on-man duel between Corghi and Wong Ping Shun
was only beginning to heat up, and the speedy Italian had the first say. Shortly after his miss, Corghi smoothly accelerated past Wong in a straight chase, before squeezing it inside for Divers favourite Jimmy Ouyang to sweep past Wong Tian Han
from an acute angle.
The Birds were taken aback, but this only served to motivate Wong Ping Shun
, who had his own back four minutes later; Corghi thought he had been fouled after Wong bundled him off the ball with a stiff shoulder-charge, but the referee saw nothing wrong with a bit of argy-bargy, and Clément Meyer
duly rose to nod Wong's cross in just under the crossbar.
Meyer's contribution didn't stop there, as he immediately after went in hard on Axel Mair after Grilled lost the ball from kick-off, which set the tone for his colleagues. Wong then nearly got another assist, but Gene Filippone
's shot from a corner came back to Mohd Safri, who then clattered it off the post. Thankfully, Low Aik Jia
retrieved it, and Tian Yonghang
did the honours on the third try.
Divers were unimpressed, and after Meyer tested Manzoor severely with a cultured volley, Ouyang came close to profiting from another of their instant breakaways, as he pirouetted away from Filippone while bringing national legend Mak Chao Puay's long pass down in one motion. Unfortunately for Divers, his magic ran out then, and he whacked it hopelessly high.
The S-League appeared to have brought out both the best and worst of Tian, who minutes after hitting a technically excellent goal, gave in to his baser instincts with a spiteful clip on the back of Mak's calves after the latter had shielded the ball from him successfully. The home fans rightly bayed for blood, but referee Aigar Ülenõmm decided to give Tian one more chance.
It was perhaps just as well that the Birds did not score in the immediate aftermath with Mak still receiving treatment, with Low racing clear on the left before trying to seek out Chow Ying Lee
in their usual lightning combination. The cross was marginally overhit this time, however, and Chow would have to wait further to see if he could extend his scoring streak.
The second half saw no letup in the unseasonally warm weather, and several players showed signs of slowing down. Chief among them was Ouyang, who had covered so much ground in the previous forty-five minutes, and could do little but trip up Zhu Changchun
as the latter made to dash past him. Wong Ping Shun
lined up the free-kick with care, but couldn't keep it down.
Though ahead, Grilled were far from comfortable with their slender lead, and pulled out all the stops in search of a definitive third goal. Ling ate a yellow of his own in stepping in front of a Divers throw-in, which only served to rile the crowd further. Grilled continued with their attacks, and Woon Shun An
came very close to finding that much-desired third with his ballista of a right peg in the 69th minute.
The Birds' unpopularity in Pasir Ris came to a head five minutes later, when the usually less-than-persistent Low Aik Jia
threw his weight behind a sliding tackle on centreback Michelangelo Viapiana. It was the fourth yellow of the match, and caused Viapiana to be substituted with German utility man Theo Fels von Hartenstein.
Ironically, that proved a turning point in Divers' passivity, as they suddenly began to threaten at the other end. Wong Tian Han
had to help Philibert Freimann's stunning effort over the bar, and from the resulting corner, Japanese Number Two Takeru Kobayashi sent the Ballota into pandemonium by returning the ball from a botched clearance, and sticking it in.
Job accomplished, the hosts stopped pressing their luck and resolved to protect their point, which they did despite Grilled's best intentions to the contrary.