Shaken And Stirred
Grilled fell to their first league defeat at The Cooking Pot since returning to Division Two, with Batok Earthquakes gaining the distinction of inflicting it upon the Birds. Former Mozambique international striker Nélson Pedro was their go-to man, blitzing Grilled twice, with the home team finding no answer to the Earthquakes' unapologetic defence.
Then again, it was a slightly different Birds team from what they had been used to, with Wong Ping Shun
's suspension forcing Hariharan Prabhu
to step up on the right. Not only that, 18 year-old Moey Xin Seng
got the nod in central midfield for his first actual league start, despite somewhat indifferent recent performances. The fans definitely didn't mind, as they reserved a hearty welcome for the local boy made good.
Earthquakes for their part hadn't even let in a goal in the last two rounds, and last five games, all accounted. Ex-Singaporean regular sweeper Tan Kong Lai had a lot to do about that, while German forward Dietmar Dunkel pinched the points. This was what they were counting on again, as they turned the vise on Grilled immediately.
The first half-and-hour saw nary a whiff at either goal, with Rinor Isufi
making next to no headway against Earthquakes' flat five-man line, despite many attempted breakthroughs. And then, it happened - a seemingly lazy exchange between Humberto Laportilla and Faziallah bin Othman in midfield cumulated in a long pass for Pedro out of nothing, and he pulled off an astonishing first-time volley that had Wong Tian Han
shaking his head at the injustice of it all.
The supporters could hardly blame Wong for that one, but the fact remained that Grilled would be nowhere closer to finding a way past Fausto Chiara, Clément Meyer
's continued laying into Faziallah notwithstanding. Referee Giuseppe Caboni, who had turned a blind eye to much of Meyer's hurly-burly, finally found his wild challenge in the 34th minute too much to ignore, and added Meyer's name into his book.
Grilled did look like they were improving, with Isufi beginning to poke some holes, but it would end in tears. A long-drawn encroachment in the 43rd minute fell apart after Clark Won
tried to force it through Earthquakes' watertight seal, and the ensuing counter would be knocked in by fullback Silvano De Rogatis for two-nil.
It was an extremely disspiriting way to close out the half, and it was all the diehard faction could do to keep the cheers going. Djan Bacelar
kept an impassive face as his men trudged past him into the tunnel, in stark contrast to Mariusz Szałański's far more upbeat interactions.
Faziallah would apparently feel the delayed effect of Meyer's predations after a bit, which saw him replaced by Lee Long Chi in the 52nd. This turned out to be encouraging for Grilled, with Lee's willingness to venture up leaving more room for the Birds to operate.
would take responsibility for the comeback, as Grilled's knocking their heads on the wall finally came through. Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
won a knockdown ahead of Henri Larsen for once, and in the ensuing scramble, Tian's quick feet hooked the ball out, before driving it past Chiara, who was visibly outraged at the loss of his clean sheet.
More was to follow. Lifted by the goal, Grilled began to pelt the visitors with regularity, and Tan Kong Lai for once looked harried. Moey Xin Seng
, who had clearly been the weak link in Grilled's midfield, would give expression to his promise with a dynamic burst down the middle in the 77th minute. Although he wouldn't get far beyond Laportilla, it was enough to open a path for Rinor Isufi
against Chua Li Sze, and the Albanian obliged with a blazing run to record the equaliser.
The crowd were up on their feet at the prospect of a turnaround win, only for Pedro to throw cold water on these hopes. Grilled were quite understandably raring to go for a third, but Alfian bin Abdul Hamid's flawless tackle on Mohd Safri would turn danger into opportunity in a jiffy. The Birds were found wanting in retreat, and after a mistimed effort at interception by Yuki Irie
, Nélson Pedro swept the Earthquakes' third in.
Three minutes later, last season's top scorer Dietmar Dunkel would reprise his frightening form with a missile from deep, while Wong Tian Han
should however have done better with. In any case, however, this meant that Grilled's chances were more or less sunk, and it would be reflected in their disappointingly weak response after the restart.
would do his utmost to make things happen once he came on for Yuki Irie
with injury time looming, but he was lucky simply not to let in another, as Pedro hovered in anticipation.