The Birds kept the pressure up on leaders Changi Genius with a resounding 6-1 home result against the visiting Pearl Divers, who never quite put themselves in the running with a mostly insipid display. There was the odd reminder of their past glories at times, as with Austrian veteran Axel Mair's unquestioned class in the centre... which was unfortunately not matched by his teammates.
The Divers' growing Japanese influence had been bolstered by the recent acquisition of right winger Yuta Kihira, which made it three for them in midfield. Grilled's own Yuta Nakakita
would go face-to-face with Mair, after turning out at the back in his last appearance. Chu Xin Lee
would be restored to the firing line, with Islom Davlatov
serving his suspension, and teenaged trainee Christian Mier
would make the bench, as a reward for his recent good performances.
There had hardly been time for the general direction of the match to manifest, when Grilled got off to a lightning start. Neeraj Muthyala
knocked it ahead for Moey Xin Seng
, who bamboozled Quek Leng by passing it onwards to nobody in particular, before running onto his own pass. Unexpectedly, it was Hoàng Trung Quá
who provided the inside option, but going by the assurance with which he then beat the goalie from a narrow angle, the fans will be asking for more of that!
Divers were shaken by that unforeseen turn of events, but they grimly carried on. A ponderous but unrelenting push, anchored by Mair, would see the game compressed into Grilled's end just a few minutes later. Mair would then lob it up for striker Mohd. Jihan Salamat, but he didn't count on Kalki Parvathaneni
going for the same ball with his leg. Mohd. Jihan Salamat would have to go off with breathing difficulties as Kalki was booked, but Divers skipper Daniel Nilsson then miscued the free-kick.
Nilsson was doing great against Cyril Künzler
, to his credit, to the extent that the Birds would have to rely on their left wing heavily, with Künzler all but shut down. Florus Romijn
was more than happy to pick up the slack, however, and he found newbie Gay Rong Ze a sometimes naïve prospect; a cheeky fake glance discomfitted Gay sufficiently for Romijn to rob him of a ball thrown out by the keeper, and Abdelqouddous Bouabdallaoui would have no time to regret his misjudgment, before being beaten for 2-0.
The visitors were not giving in quite yet, and with Nilsson turning the tables on Künzler more often than not, they were hardly short of opportunities on which to capitalize. The lithe Othman Mokhtar had nearly freed himself of Gene Filippone
several times before the 36th minute, but that was when he had the support of Nilsson, who skipped through on the byline to put a meaningful low cross in - Mokhtar surely couldn't miss that once he got in place, and he didn't.
It was beginning to look more competitive that it had been in ages, especially after Bouabdallaoui pulled a superb save off against Yuta Nakakita
's firecracker, in the 39th minute. Romijn wasn't done, however, and he made himself open for the outside pass two minutes from half-time, once things got too clogged up in the box. Moey put him up to it, and Romijn crashed his drive in off the goalpost.
The teams came out with the tenor of the match now clearly set, but interestingly it was Divers who seized the initiative for the second half. Yuta Kihira, who had been dragged hither and thither by Florus Romijn
, found himself not tracked by the Belgian more often than not. But then, given how much Romijn had given of himself, he probably deserved some sort of discount on his defensive duties.
Kihira's crosses didn't get to replacement forward Mohd Fikri Jamil, whose positioning left much to be desired, and Divers' comeback window soon closed. Instead, it would be Grilled who would put themselves further ahead in the 61st minute, when Cyril Künzler
finally found a way past Nilsson with his speed. As it turned out, once was enough for the winger, as his inviting cross was met full-on by a flying Hoàng Trung Quá
Hoàng found himself buried beneath a mass of teammates before he turned around, and Grilled kept up with the pressure, with victory now firmly in their grasp. Yuta Nakakita
was again unlucky, sadly, as he cracked a near-perfect long shot at the top corner, only for Bouabdallaoui to deny him with another fingertip save. At the other end, Othman Mokhtar drew a yellow card for Filippone in the 69th minute, but the free-kick again came to naught.
Although Nilsson had kept Künzler under wraps for nearly all of the time thus far, he was powerless to keep the Polish wingman from scoring eventually. An inadvertent handball by the retreating Kazuki Katagiri saw referee Maciej Lipiecki immediately award Grilled the penalty, and Künzler would claim it for his own. Bouabdallaoui went the right way, but Künzler's strike was by far too hard and fast to be stopped.
Other than that, today would definitely not be one of Künzler's more memorable performances, and he would fluff a great chance a bit later, after Neeraj Muthyala
had done all the hard work of parting the defence for him. Against a goalie who had incorrectly chosen to stand his ground, Künzler wasted precious seconds trying to lay it off, before settling for a weak shot right at a relieved Bouabdallaoui.
Moey Xin Seng
would demonstrate how it should have been done two minutes later, after Mohammad Ramli Saliman
created a nearly identical opportunity, spinning clear of a slowing Mair. Dodging Quek Leng's anxious tackle cleanly, Moey would observe Bouabdallaoui as the keeper hesitated, and stuck it in for the sixth Grilled goal, before he could gather himself.