The Birds gained a brief respite at Ground Zero, as they came away with a badly-needed 2-0 result against Batok Earthquakes. This made for their first points in the league thus far this season, and they even looked good while doing it, as the hosts shockingly exhibited even less coordination than Grilled.
Common in the buildup for both sides was the heavy shakeup in their squads, with Earthquakes' Polish head coach Mariusz Szałański trading away mainstays such as Nélson Pedro, Nunzio Viscusi and Faziallah bin Othman, while dropping a combined S$11.6 million on new strike pairing Ioritz Aldabalde and Tullio Mineo, to great fanfare. This was done in conjunction with a massive shift from Szałański's signature 5-2-3 to an aggressive 2-5-3, as he sought to shock his players into having that something extra to take them over the top.
Unfortunately, the outcome on the pitch had not been encouraging at all, as Earthquakes lost their first two league games to The EV and FC Barca Singapore, without scoring; although they then put out a weakened side against All The King Men in the Singapore Cup, the ensuing 0-5 defeat last Wednesday could not have done much for morale, and it was a confused-looking bunch that came out of the tunnel today.
Their main consolation was that Grilled were hardly doing much better, having been smashed by FC Barca and Club Dinosauria themselves. Djan Bacelar
grimly stuck to his rebuilding vision despite that, and would be boosted by Wong Tian Han
successfully rushing back from his facial injury. The sight of their goalie waving to them in a transparent protective mask brought some cheer to the few visiting diehards, who responded in kind.
They would then be treated to the most positive start Grilled had made in many a month, as they poured forward with meaning. Revealing their continued unfamiliarity with having their tactical traditions ripped out wholesale, the Earthquakes were completely lost, as Low Aik Jia
advanced fearlessly against a backpedalling Silvano De Rogatis, before a spate of sharp short passing saw Rinor Isufi
give former national defender Ibrahim Mohd Azmil the run-around. He would then sky it horribly, to his own annoyance, as it left his nine-game dry streak intact.
It was still early days, and Isufi among others would have plenty of openings to attack. The Earthquakes' previously-impregnable aura was nowhere to be found, as Grilled had them scrambling with worrying regularity. Low Aik Jia
was especially impressive, and after yet another of his deceptively-direct rushes led to a corner, he would get a head on the resulting corner, but Neeraj Muthyala
was just slightly slow with his follow-up.
Muthyala would be desperately unlucky five minutes later, when he scooped a spectacular effort onto the post, after sliding a long way on the turf. It would thus be left to Gennady Dvorak
to open the scoring - Tian Yonghang
won the free-kick off the inexperienced Egil Borch a few yards outside the penalty area, and the Argentine bent it neatly over Lee Long Chi, standing on the outside of the four-man wall.
The tenor of the match then changed, arguably not for the better for the birds. Their drive diminished markedly after Dvorak's breakthrough, which allowed the hosts back in. The fiercely-competitive Aldabalde, already showing signs of not taking media opinion very well, got into Yuki Irie
's face more than once. It was only a question of who would explode first, and it turned out to be the Spaniard, who was booked after following through on a hopelessly late challenge on Irie.
Batok Earthquakes were certainly not holding anything back in their bid to find a first goal, and this was amply reflected in Borch's devastating two-footed lunge on Gene Filippone
in the 37th minute. Bacelar had to be restrained from going after the referee when it became apparent that Borch would escape a deserved sending off, but Grilled at least would have Hoàng Trung Quá
raring to take over.
There were no signs of Earthquakes letting up after the interval, and Hoàng was only too pleased to give as good as he got. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
, who had spent most of his time as a distributor, was however not as prepared, and copped Dietmar Dunkel's bad tackle in the 65th. It was telling that the two-time league top scorer would involve himself in this at all, and frustration was writ large on Dunkel's face, as he received the Earthquakes' third yellow of the day.
They were hardly out of the woods defensively either, as Lee Long Chi seemed unused to having to patrol so much territory on his own; the draining heat didn't help either, and he was left behind when Gennady Dvorak
made his move in the 77th minute, after Ang Leong Kum
had cut a fine lob inside. Dvorak met it with a thumping diving header, only for Fausto Chiara to keep his team's fading hopes alive with a full-length save.
Some clever off-the-ball runs by Mineo would leave Grilled fans worrying about letting it slip late on, so they would have Low Aik Jia
to thank for cementing the win. With eight minutes remaining, Low would once again pull clear of the hardworking De Rogatis, right on cue for Dvorak to center it from the other flank. There was meaty contact between Low and Chiara as the duo collided over the incoming ball, but not enough for the referee to disallow the ensuing goal.
then got Grilled's first booking, as they entered time-wasting mode, which also entailed Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
and new signing Valentin Batâr
dragging their entrances out. The crowd rang out with boos at that, but they were otherwise helpless to influence their dire fate.