The best-laid plans of the Birds' men turned out to be far from sufficient against main title rivals Changi Genius, who made a mockery of Djan Bacelar
's detailed build-up with a 6-2 slaying on home ground. Some observers were quick to blame the deflating tournament defeat that Grilled had just suffered against Peiki Club Fc, but it was also evident that the backline - long Grilled's weakness - was simply far from good enough to challenge seriously at this level.
Bacelar certainly had some tough decisions to make, with Yuki Irie
reportedly having taken a big knock in training, which led to him being relegated to the bench. Instead, Yuta Nakakita
took over defensive duties, with Chu Xin Lee
assigned to pull the strings in midfield. Many pundits immediately questioned the balance of this midfield arrangement, which obviously lacked any true anchor, and their critiques would be justified in short order.
The game had barely got going, when Spanish winger Manuel Soroa broke clear down the right, after Florus Romijn
had overestimated his own speed. Although undoubtedly exciting, Romijn's judgment has often been called into account, and there must surely have been little reason for him to have tried what he had, with Hoàng Trung Quá
clearly calling for the pass back inside. Hoàng would try to make the best out of the mess, sticking to Edy Goldschmidt as the ball came in, but Chua Yau How would take it on the half-volley and score.
The hosts' commitment to a holding game would slowly become evident after this, though it was not certain if head coach Zlatko Rendulić had planned it this way all along, or adapted after the dream start. Either way, Changi certainly appeared more at ease than they had in their two previous meetings last season, with Raymond Poon's calming influence being especially far removed from Wee Kim Yun's tendency to force the play.
Poon would spread it to the right wing in the 19th minute, which turned out to be just what Changi needed; Soroa was once again free and clear, and his target turned out to be the same, with Chua flipping in an arcing header with exquisite control.
It was going very badly indeed for the visiting Birds, who now further had to contend with disparaging songs from the partisan fans. Still, they went about their business with an admirable doggedness, and Romijn went some distance towards redemption, with his sleek dribble up the left in the 23rd minute, ably helped by Moey Xin Seng
. Cyril Künzler
would find himself boxed off by Zacharias Hertl as Romijn squared, unfortunately, and a great chance went begging.
The Polish winger would come good in the 31st minute, though, winning and then taking a corner kick that he dropped right onto Neeraj Muthyala
's head. Agustí Autet had to be the favourite as he came off his line, but Islom Davlatov
managed to get between him and Muthyala, and his standing his ground was just enough to make space for his teammate to score. Autet and company would protest furiously at the obstruction, but referee Ovidiu Muresan saw nothing wrong there.
Changi would make up for it on their next possession, which led to fullback Sun Qiang Chuan restoring their two-goal cushion. In truth, it was more a failing of Grilled's defence than any special skill on the hosts' part, as Yuta Nakakita
looked all lost at sea when Mathieu Lecoq advanced on him. That indecision would cost the Birds dearly, with Sun on hand to pick up on Lecoq's no-look sidefooted assist.
Moey Xin Seng
tried to rally the troops, and his energy did spur his comrades to greater efforts. However, that by itself was not enough to breach the organized Changi rearguard, although Islom Davlatov
did continue to rile the hosts up with a succession of sneaky tricks. The crowd reacted strongly, but the Uzbek revelled in the attention and carried on with his thing, opening space for his fellow forwards. A lack of end product disappointed, sadly.
The teams maintained an uneasy equilibrium until the hour mark, when a momentary loss of concentration by Player of the Season Hoàng, saw Mathieu Lecoq rob him in a dangerous position. Lecoq went on to score from close up, and that was the signal for Rendulić to signal for tactical adjustments. Out went Wee Kim Yun for Maxime Deschamps' fresh legs, with Chua Yau How given new instructions during the substitution. Chua would man-mark Chu Xin Lee
after that, to the latter's discomfort.
Deschamps' presence gave Changi an additional threat down the left, and if some home fans were questioning Rendulić's wisdom in going for the kill instead of protecting their lead in a more conventional manner, they would have to eat humble pie soon enough. Grilled's defence was stretched to breaking point by Changi's wingers in the 73rd, which allowed Lecoq in to find a fifth.
It was all Grilled could do to hang on, and they got another back in the 81st minute. Florus Romijn
, who had had a chequered day, would finally find himself wide open after Soroa took a slip, and he took Sun Qiang Chuan to the byline before swinging a fine cross in, just out of reach of Changi's defenders. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
met it with a big boot a few yards inside the box, and saw it flash between Agustí Autet's gloves, to his delight.
Despite that, the Birds were under no illusions that a comeback was possible, and even that joy was short-lived, as Changi found a sixth goal. Deschamps won his duel with Cyril Künzler
to head an incursion down his flank, and Soroa would be first to his centered ball, ahead of an overworked Yuta Nakakita