Out Of Gas
Grilled's flagging hopes of staying up hit another huge snag today, as they sagged irredeemably in their last ten minutes at The Cooking Pot, handing the match to auld competitors Chemistry. The restoration of perhaps their best available selection to the starting lineup made for a promising flag-off, but an alarming loss of coherence on the attack left the visitors with space for the big comeback.
The two clubs went way back together, with seventeen previous competitive meetings between them, with Chemistry holding the upper hand with nine wins, to five for the Birds. Their last in the league was however over twenty seasons ago, while a Singapore Cup clash four seasons back saw Chow Ying Lee strike twice, in a 5-2 win.
As the home fans needed little reminding of, sadly, Grilled's current squad has been on a steady decline, and they could absolutely have done with a Chow back in their ranks; Rinor Isufi
, Hariharan Prabhu
and Tian Yonghang
remained holdovers from then, but if the former two could have been said to have held their standard, it was clear that Tian - and the rest of their supporting cast - were no longer the forces they once were.
This wasn't all that apparent at first, as Grilled started very positively. Roundly encouraged by the engaged - if dwindling - crowd, they pinged the ball about with some purpose, and caught a slight stroke of luck in the fifth minute. Antonio Villalaúd let Prabhu through on the outside, and the Grilled man seemingly overhit the cross... only for it to suddenly drop for Gennady Dvorak
Dvorak clipped that one in posthaste, and the fans lapped it right up. Hopes of a resounding victory began to rise, as the Birds carried on dominating possession, with Mohammad Ramli Saliman
enjoying his time in the thick of things. Signs of trouble soon became apparent, though, as the visitors were hardly threatened each time Grilled actually ran it forward.
It could only be interpreted as an inferiority at most positions, but the Birds chugged along, trying to make quantity make up for quality. They were then taken aback when Estonian winger Anton Veiderma held Ang Leong Kum
- who has been looking increasingly suspect defensive - off, and took it up the right. His target was Janusz Kukieła, but as it turned out, 19 year-old Ooi Yong Li knew how to head a ball too.
Grilled nearly replied immediately, but Yuta Nakakita
- returned to midfield - put it into the hoardings. The sense of ineffectual ball-hoarding only increased after that, as Saliman's fanning it around the centre circle, to little impact, became depressingly obvious even to the untrained eye.
tried, but he was even less useful than usual, with the Chemistry centreback pairing of Gerald Leung and Lee Kuan Yew (no relation to the former Prime Minister) holding up impressively well. Physically, they were a notch above any of Grilled's forwards, with Lee even embarassing Isufi on pace more than once.
It was thus unsurprising that Tian was taken off earlier than usual, with Clark Won
the latest to try out in his role. This did lead to a flurry of activity, with Won and Saliman interchanging on several occasions, to some excitement. This however didn't help the actual striking department any, and with Isufi curtailed and Dvorak firing blanks, Grilled's prospect for another goal never looked too good.
Chemistry would play their cards in the 75th minute, replacing Richie Yoon with former national U-20 midfielder Yong Tse Chee; at this, Bacelar appeared to consider countering with Kalki Parvathaneni
's energy, but ultimately considered it too much of a risk. As it was, there would be no keeping the lid on Yong's creativity then.
This sub would quickly prove to be the correct move. The Grilled midfield set, already worn out from their unsuccessful attempts to break through, couldn't contain Yong's trademark pass-and-move game. Scarce five minutes after he came on, Chemistry were ahead, as they rolled up the middle and had Vincenzo Ornaghi applying the finishing touch from wide.
Grilled did reach into their reserves at the prospect of a loss, and for a brief moment, a heroic rally appeared well within the realm of possibility. There were a few scrambles in the Chemistry penalty area as their defence looked vulnerable for once... only for Tommaso Petretta to save Isufi's shot in the 85th minute, leading to former Swiss youth international Willy Haberstich putting it away on the breakaway.
That was a dagger to the heart, and the Birds' resolve completely crumbled after that. It was fortunate for them that Chemistry only managed to add one more after that, through Janusz Kukieła, with Lee missing an open goal. The home fans must have been wondering how it could possibly get worse, when Yuta Nakakita
collapsed dramatically towards the end. Thankfully - for they surely could not have taken much more - it turned out to just be the cramps.