newbies are newbies nearly put a stop to Grilled's championship dreams, but the Birds' defensive duo of Yuta Nakakita
and Hoàng Trung Quá
would do double duty today. Fired up by a second-minute opener from the hosts, they spent the remainder of the game taking turns to careen upfield, with the air of those with a point to prove.
Sim Kian Eng's newbies continued to be in a way the opposite of Grilled, having being designed around a stolid back five. Their biggest change from their earlier 0-3 defeat at The Cooking Pot was dropping Brendan Pham into midfield, with Spanish forward Rolando Gaztelu partnering Eric Johnson up top in his stead. Martin Tung would also return, having seen just a single half of action that day.
Tung would wind up scoring with his first touch, his first league goal of a relatively dry season. There had been a mix-up of sorts, as Islom Davlatov
lobbed it behind Yuta Nakakita
, who had expected the ball to be played to his feet. Pham sent the corner deep, and Martin Tung cut ahead of Florus Romijn
decisively to flip it low.
The home crowd, hungry for their first victory over Grilled in eight minutes, weren't shy about whooping it up, and Yuta couldn't hide the fact that he felt that mistake keenly. He responded in the best possible manner, however, by equalising just five minutes later. If the advance itself was slightly reckless, none could have complained after the strike, which was flighted perfectly outside even the prepared Seetoh Aik Beng's reach.
One goal had led to another, and another still, as what had originally been suspected to be a dour preliminary sizing-up became an unabashed free-for-all. There was little trace of newbies' vaunted defensive organization as the rush overtook them, and quite literally in the body of a flying Vikram Mudaliar
. Guan Wen Jin was left snapping at air, and skipper Kwok Wan Yau decided that going a goal down was preferable to a likely red card and penalty.
Grilled had their testing moments too, and Moey Xin Seng
would pick up a yellow in the 17th minute, for a sly shirt-tug on Brendan Pham as newbies looked to break. Otherwise, it went pretty much their way, and Hoàng Trung Quá
would make it 3-1 with a clever pot against a shifting backline.
The home fans had definitely quietened down a lot by the end of the first half, despite Kwok's frequent efforts to get them going. They would be jazzed as newbies came out blazing after their rest, though, given that Sim had probably reminded them that there was nothing to be gained from patience alone.
It was the Birds who let loose the first salvo, as Mudaliar against tore their right defence to ribbons with pure acceleration. Seetoh Aik Beng saved brilliantly, however, and Grilled's breathless attack was turned on themselves. Bilal Mohammad Harun
was last man back and tried his best to delay Rolando Gaztelu, but the latter simply reversed it for the surging Gan Seng An - 2-3.
That brought about another reflexive foray by Yuta Nakakita
, and it all fell perfectly once more for the defender. Mudaliar was by this time the one to look for when Grilled had the ball, and he duly snatched at a half-chance, sending it bouncing temptingly before Yuta. The Number Thirteen needed no second invitation, and drove his laces through, for a stunning fourth Grilled goal.
The match remained very entertaining, with Eric Johnson for one keeping the newbies support on the edge of their seats with his flamboyant moves. Actual chances on Massoud Dob
's goal were harder to come about, but Ang Han Ah would get one on target in the 70th minute, after partially rounding Moey. Dob had that one under control, but Hoàng wasn't taking any chances, and lumped it behind immediately.
Not long after, the buzz turned to newbies' end, with Cyril Künzler
finding himself in the unfamiliar role of target man as Bilal Mohammad Harun
dug a snazzy chip into an undefended spot. Seetoh Aik Beng was however equal to Künzler's improvised header, and Gan Seng An would get his second from newbies' race down the right.
A draw now in sight, newbies gathered themselves for a grandstand finish, and Grilled were the ones now fighting desperately to preserve the status quo. There was little hint of any preconceived strategy as the Birds withdrew into their defensive third, although newbies were ironically unable to take full advantage either, with their players subconsiously reluctant to stay in advanced positions.
Still, an equaliser was far from unlikely as newbies laid siege, and Eric Johnson would create an opening for himself in the 81st minute, as he dashed onto his own deflection with Grilled's defence in shambles. Chu Xin Lee
threw himself in front of the shot, and though this bought Grilled the time they needed, Chu had taken the full brunt of Johnson's powerful right foot, on the side of his torso.
A stoppage was called by referee Mauro Marques, who was right in front of the incident, and Chu would shortly be carted off for Chan Ze Han
. That sacrifice had its effect, as it happened, as Grilled then managed to hang on for the all-important three points.