|Season 57||W||4 - 2||Tournament (Group Phase)|
|Season 56||L||2 - 1||Cup|
|Season 53||L||4 - 7||Tournament (Group Phase)|
|Season 26||W||1 - 4||Cup|
|Season 23||L||4 - 3||Cup|
The Birds' rollercoaster campaign hit a high with their comprehensive win over iconic Geylang side Joker 9 today; latest signing Ang Leong Kum
underlined that his Cup display was not a fluke, with yet another hugely influential outing in midfield, marked by a well-taken maiden goal.
Joker 9 hadn't had the best of returns to the top flight either, having like Grilled garnered just a single win from their first four S-League matches, the opening day 3-2 effort against Random Curiosity FC. Since then, a series of underwhelming results, including straight cup eliminations the latest being against All The King Men, have not been overly encouraging.
They were definitely not lacking for quality, though, with club talisman Ang Pin Jing among the best in his central midfield role in the country, along with longtime partner Kim Ng - who has however hit a pronounced rut in the past month. Together with former United Warrior Team trainee Narayan Naik, they made for a core that was, at least in theory, up there with the best.
The problem was that this appellation probably applied to most of their opponents in the S-League too, and while they did not lack for firepower with a 2-5-3 that was arguably even more advanced than Grilled's own, pundits have oft noted that having two strikers, in Krijn van Wijngaarden and Víctor Iriztain, stay up top permanently, was overkill. Indeed, for all of Ang Pin Jing's endeavour, the gap between midfield and attack was mostly insurmountable despite the Birds' thin backline.
That some sixty thousand fans still turned up was something of a testament to their loyalty, after the spate of embarassing scorelines the Birds had been on the receiving end of recently. There were suggestions that it could happen again, after van Wijngaarden came very close with a lob early on, but first blood would be drawn by Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
, who struck sweetly off a delightfully disguised pass from Grilled's only Ang in the 24th.
Grilled's suffering support opened up at the positive development, and the half-dead atmosphere in the stadium returned to relative normalcy as the team plugged away. Joker 9's defence, while imposing against high balls, was suspectible to being run against, and 34 year-old Chinese national Wei Shuangyuan proved ineffective against Chow Ying Lee
's ground game. This led to a second goal in the 28th minute, as Chow recorded his tenth goal of the season, but only his first in the league, off a determined run.
Goals were flowing again, and while they might have been sympathetic to Joker 9's woes, having experienced them often enough, Grilled were not about to give up when they had a good thing going. The visitors were lost trying to return to a conservative outlook, and managed only to scramble their corners behind. Wong Ping Shun
would find Tian Yonghang
on the third try, which the skipper expertly doffed outside to Ang Leong Kum
, who in turn drew a loud roar with his picture-perfect cannon into the top left corner.
Tian himself got on the scoresheet barely two minutes later as Clark Won
got on the inside of a distressed Lokmalhakim bin Raja Hassan to deliver, and the Jokers were well on the way to a right hiding. Wei, who had come under some criticism as player-coach after the highs of their previous championship-winning season, tried to formulate an alternative plan with captain Naik on the fly, but it was looking quite bad for them.
Salvation would arrive in the form of Víctor Iriztain, who threw a wrench in the seemingly-unstoppable Birds juggernaut with his eye-catching finish in the 38th minute. Although he had been given nary a touch for a long stretch, with his compatriots involved the fighting rather far behind his post, Iriztain showed his value with his assured hit from Victor Meda's inswinging low cross. His excellent technique gave Wong Tian Han
little warning, and was enough to break the duck for Joker 9.
The Jokers then threatened a second before half-time, as van Wijngaarden's early expressiveness returned, but Ling Fuquan
was not standing for that, and shut the Dutch maestro down with a vicious sliding challenge before he advanced too closely. That brought an immediate yellow card and a stern talking-to, but it did prevent the sweeping move from developing into anything more dangerous. Wei had a go from the free-kick, but didn't trouble Wong much at that range.
The second half's placidity was in stark contrast to the first, and could be attributed to several factors - Grilled, with a three-goal cushion to hold on to, and a stiff test from newbies are newbies in the pipeline, were happy to conserve energy; Joker 9, with a veritable mountain to climb, and already taxed on the defensive end, were satisfied with containing the damage; and above all, the sapping 33-degree afternoon heat was taking a lot out of both the contestants.
There was great concern when Victor Meda staggered into a dead swoon after fifteen minutes of the second half, following his shadowing of Wong Ping Shun
the length of the pitch. The linesman flagged for a stoppage, and though it turned out to be a temporary blackout, the referee nevertheless signalled for an extended water break, which almost all the participants were eager to avail themselves of.
Action had slowed down markedly as the game entered the 72nd minute, but Clément Meyer
then sharply upped the ante, with his romp down the left. This threw the visitors into disarray, but Meyer decided to spread it out to Chow, instead of recognizing Won's clever movement into the middle, causing the attack to break down. Not only that, Meyer's forced final ball twisted his standing ankle, and he had to limp off to be replaced by Woon Shun An
Grilled did have one more goal in them, and Wong Ping Shun
would be responsible for setting it up, with Meda never having completely recovered from his dehydration. Wong himself was suffering the effects of the sun, but was clearly better off than his opposite number; 79 minutes in, he held off Meda with his upper body strength, and hooked one across the penalty area, that Zhu Changchun
sent zipping between Tom Mõniste's legs courtesy of a very fortunate additional touch from Ng. That didn't stop him from claiming it, though.
Like in the first half, the Jokers cranked out a last surge towards the end, but although they managed to get it to Krijn van Wijngaarden just five metres from goal, Gene Filippone
got his boot in the way to undo this last-gasp attempt.