No Through Route
CoCo Seal Seas
The Birds entered the home derby puffed up and ready to knock 'em in, but CoCoTeaTree Islanders would soon reduce that to a gloomy sense of inevitability, as they ground their way - with admittedly superb technical ability - to a comfortable 2-0 win. Their control over their own penalty area was so superb that Grilled barely even got a shot off inside throughout, and none of Tian Yonghang
's plotting could convince them to loosen their deathgrip.
While the Islanders had not won in their last two league fixtures, their opponents had toiled mightily to open them up, with Arcturules moreover running a tight ship themselves. With this not being a realistic tactic for Grilled to attempt, they instead fell back on what they knew best - all-out attack. To this end, they drafted Mohammad Ramli Saliman
into midfield for the more defensively-minded Yuta Nakakita
, while letting Low Aik Jia
loose on the left wing.
None of this would quite matter, however, as CoCoTeaTree went into their practised protective crouch. Their two nigh-impregnable banks of five would form up, as is their custom, and the initial Grilled thrusts were first absorbed, before being turned into leisurely kick-abouts. Large sections of the home support soon lost their patience and began jeering, but Frankobert Möschel and company had heard it all before - if packed S-League mobs hadn't persuaded them to abandon this tack, what was a half-filled The Cooking Pot going to do?
With the first part of their usual gameplan secured, and the Grilled players well and flustered, the Islanders shifted to the second portion: getting a goal. As always, they went about it with no particular hurry, keeping defence as their priority, while never committing more than a handful of their men on the attack. Given that they had Zvonimir Kuzmić pulling the strings, this was often enough to bother the Birds' less-than-solid backline.
In other words, the Islanders were fishing with next to no risk to themselves, and they struck gold in the 20th minute. Concentrating on moving it around the outskirts of Grilled's penalty area to create an opening, they set homegrown stopper Khaw Sze up with a look-in, and his raked effort just about eluded Valentin Batâr
's dive, before entering the bottom corner.
That settled, the visitors became only more frustrating. Now with even less reason to venture, they could focus on playing keep-ball and picking the safest passes, to the increasing displeasure of the home fans. Thus, when Kuzmić got his foot accidentally stomped on by Hariharan Prabhu
in trying to tiki-taka his way out, he received precious little sympathy from the stands.
The best revenge is living well - or winning, as it may be - as they say, and Kuzmić's satisfaction would not be long in coming. Once more maintaining compact lines, CoCoTeaTree worked their way slowly up through the middle, but suddenly burst into a flurry of action when the Croat dummied a routine pass. Seconds later, French fullback Jérôme Hochet flew onto the ball from out wide, and nearly put it through the netting with a stunning hit.
At this, the Grilled players appeared to be wondering whether football was supposed to be played in this way, but Spanish referee Pau Rubí clearly didn't feel that any rules had been broken. Aid was not forthcoming, sadly, with Djan Bacelar
seemingly out of ideas, and it was Möschel who took the initiative for the second half too, replacing the untested Dod with Roman Brodawka.
Of course, it hardly meant anything with the Birds not even getting a sniff in before that, save perhaps for a scuffed Rinor Isufi
attempt that was more making a point than anything. The Albanian did not want for trying, and he tried to respark his old partnership with Low Aik Jia
, but their speed made no impression on the Islanders' defence in depth.
Indeed, even when the clock showed half an hour remaining, there was a sinking feeling that it was actually all over already. Even when they had possession, the Birds had no reliable method of getting within shooting range, with the visitors exuding an air of being firmly in control.
Bacelar's only resort was to allow Leong Wan Kang
a chance at making a difference, but it soon became apparent that he wasn't going to succeed where all the intelligence of Tian Yonghang
had failed. Moreover, with raw pace on their side, the likes of Sng Tse Teck and Chua Ying Xin were bullying Grilled's forwards by now.
The only saving grace for the Birds was that their opponents didn't look interested in trying to run up the score, as they might well have at this stage. Kuzmić had instead begun hitting fifty-yard balls backwards, and it was not as if Grilled were in any position to complain, as time ran out on them.