|Season 58||W||2 - 1||League|
|Season 58||L||1 - 3||Tournament (Playoffs)|
|Season 57||W||2 - 4||League|
|Season 57||L||2 - 4||League|
|Season 57||L||5 - 0||Tournament (Playoffs)|
The Special Two
A Divine Duo
Grilled Birds hauled themselves into pole position for an assault on the S-League title this day, by doing the double against defending holders Be Champions FC. While the Birds had won their earlier meeting at The Cooking Pot a month back, BCFC were without Turkish terror Ali Ütkün then. The hosts would have a full squad to pick from this time, though, and their incredible wealth in this regard was underlined by new S$9.2 million star Russian signing Gleb Potapov only managing to make their bench.
From their submitted lineup, it was apparent that Finnish head coach Harri Lindroos retained full confidence in his tactics then - with the exception of the returning Ütkün, all ten other spots in their 4-5-1 remained constant. Grilled on the other hand left Lee Lee Hao
out, while including Zhu Changchun
as a "fourth man" in central midfield, replacing a disappointed Low Aik Jia
The crowd were well cognizant of the significance of this showdown... which however came under threat of being decided by external forces. The players were very understandably taking their time to examine each other, and Ütkün didn't have too many options after receiving the ball with his back to goal with Gene Filippone
breathing down his neck - and then he fell.
To the Grilled fans who had seen their team fall prey to a near-identical incident against Edbe FC just days ago, this must have felt like a bad case of deja vu. Their worst suspicions were confirmed when young Portuguese referee Humberto Freitas Gomes - just twenty-five years in age - decided to confer with his assistants, and to the delight of the partisan home support, Gomes then pointed to the spot.
This was a nightmare coming just four minutes in, especially with BCFC's penalty taker being the icy-cool former national team specialist, Agasthya Vaidhyanathan. Despite Wong Tian Han
's own reputation, few expected too much of him over just twelve yards... but Wong sprang without hesitation to his left, and blocked Vaidhyanathan's competent strike. The penalty-taker then rushed for the rebound, but was beaten to it by the waiting Zhao Jing Wei
, who cleared it behind before embracing his goalkeeper with unbridled gratitude.
The Birds were not the only ones with a worthy pair of gloves in goal, and BCFC's Number One would shortly after prove his usefulness. Grilled were taking the game to the home team with some relish, and Zhao would finally break fully clear in the 17th minute. It seemed to be a sure goal as Edmundo Ortega threw himself to the ground a shade too early, but the tiny nick that he got turned out to be enough to get Zhao's otherwise-flawless clip to shave the crossbar.
And if that was not enough, Ortega would then bail his team out again on Grilled's next good attack, just six minutes later. Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
closed in on BCFC's goal after sustained pressure made Dorin Bejan lose control for a moment, but not even the near-total surprise factor was enough to faze Ortega, who threw up a big hand to deflect Mohd Safri's effort, despite flying through the air in the other direction.
The reigning champions then showed their mettle, as they claimed the lead after weathering more than just one storm. Grilled were conceding corners only too freely against Ütkün's snappy runs, and national lynchpin Arnold Pang would soar above Clément Meyer
to convert one of them. It was evident that BCFC had drilled thoroughly for set pieces, and the Birds could hardly complain given how exactly their opponents had executed their dummy runs as the ball came in.
There seemed every chance that this would be enough to win it for the hosts, and serve as the foundation of another successful title-winning season, given that the conditions were quite suited to their defensive strategy. Their four-strong backline would be extremely hard to crack at the best of times, and with the pitch disintegrating under the continually battering rain, not even Tian Yonghang
could summon up the wizardry required.
Definitely, the hosts recognized what they had to do, and with barely twenty minutes remaining, they began slowing the game down as much as they could. Bejan went into the referee's book for taking Tian down, and the match had hardly restarted when Foo Ah De gave his former national colleague Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
an unrestrained chop to the shin. The away fans howled in anger at what looked like a premeditated move, but Gomes, again to the approval of the majority, refused to pull out the red card.
Which was just as well, since Mohd Safri had always preferred to get his own back.
It began with Wong Ping Shun
, whose bull-headed rampage down the right turned out to be particularly suited to the environment. Still, Swedish fullback Sebastian Göransson seemed to have done enough - only for Wong to somehow stop his cross at the last moment, cut to Göransson's inside, and arrow it straight at Mohd Safri. Grilled's longest-serving regular wasn't about to let his favourite supplier down, and he met it full on with his forehead for a resounding equaliser.
This breakthrough changed the entire tenor of the game, but before the excited commentators had gotten into how they expected it to play out, and while replays of Wong's slick bit of skill were still repeating, Mohd Safri's oldest partner would turn it entirely on its head.
With the rise of academy golden boy Tian Yonghang
, and the arrival of young gun Rinor Isufi
, the 33 year-old Chow Ying Lee
has not been the draw he had been for the Birds. However, this has had little impact on his abilities, and while he may have lost a half-yard of pace, it is seldom wise to ignore what he can do with a lick of empty space ahead of him - as Vaidhyanathan discovered belatedly.
It should not have been possible for Chow to move across the mud that quickly, but the old dog knew a few tricks yet, and he sliced delicately by BCFC's defensive general, before floating the ball delightfully past Ortega. The Special Place, which had been caught in a riot of noise between the two camps before this, was completely silenced for an instant, before the away stands absolutely exploded.
The roles were reversed now as Grilled became the ones hoofing it at every opportunity, while BCFC toiled to make inroads. The ballboys suddenly became far more proactive, but the soggy ground which the hosts had been depending on was now working against them.
Head coach Djan Bacelar
, who leapt from the dugout to stand by the sidelines once Mohd Safri's goal went in, would make the only substitution of the match with five minutes remaining; a very fired-up Rinor Isufi
, for a bedraggled but smiling Chow. Although Grilled would pass up a great shot at putting the result beyond doubt, as Woon Shun An
rolled it wide with the goal at his mercy, the Birds had done enough to set up what could be their most sensational run-in ever.