Li Stands Tall
Robbie Football Club managed a rare nil-all draw against the Birds at their Blue Planetarium today, with Grilled for once near entirely unchallenged in defence. Massoud Dob
wasn't worried by their long-range efforts as a whole, and it wound up as a forgettable derby with some good moments, overwhelmed by a whole lot of pointlessness taking place far from goal.
This would be the seventh competitive meeting between the clubs, four of which had taken place in two separate RFC stints in II.2. Grilled's historically flawless record against them came to an end only three seasons ago, where RFC got a 3-2 win at The Cooking Pot, en route to winning III.15 and securing promotion... back to II.2.
Italian head coach Gianfranco Musoni has only refined his tactics since then, and while there have also been a number of high-profile transfers, none was as prominent as the arrival of 28 year-old local goalkeeper Li Liang Chi back from Ecuador's Sporting de Orellana, for a princely sum of S$20 million. He would immediately become undisputed Number One for RFC, with the departures of Gunter Akumey and Nicolas Lefrançois, the latter whom the Birds are familiar with.
After a spotty start to this season, Robbie Football Club have kept a clean sheet for their last four matches, including against -= Manchester United =- and Mia San Toa Payoh, which had to be viewed as a challenge by Grilled. On Grilled's part, they had a full squad to choose from and were out of all cup competitions, and Hovaness Noubaryan
would go for pace and trickniness in attack with Kalki and Mudaliar flanking Chu Xin Lee
The fans must have thought they were in for a treat, from how flashily Grilled began. Fast interplay saw Chu redirect a pass meant for Florus Romijn
to Kalki, and the reigning Grilled top scorer confused Chow Rong Yao as to the direction he was going, bargeing straight ahead instead. He had Li Liang Chi at his mercy by all rights, but his decent strike high at the corner was somehow tipped over by Li.
No Grilled player got close to the overhit delivery, sadly, and the Birds would have a counterattack on their hands. Norwegian fullback Morten Jensen hugged the touchline, taking it nearly all the way to Grilled's penalty area, but Tomasz Krużołek could only roll it tamely towards Dob after taking over.
That exciting end-to-end exchange turned out an aberration of the highest order, as RFC made it play it as safe as they could - which had served them well enough in their recent games, mind. In response, Grilled spent most of their time dallying about just inside RFC's half. Cyril Künzler
's lob finding the crossbar in the 14th minute as as close as they ever got, and the match only got more tiresome after that.
Robbie had certainly refined patience down to a fine art, and their Finnish skipper Antti Ravi exemplified it, by apparently refusing to pass forward unless strictly necessary. Unlike most other teams, however, their supporters were entirely behind them on this tack, having been conditioned through seasons of relative success. True, Grilled were largely successful in the air, with Alf Lamont offering but partial competition; the main problem was that they weren't able to do much about the ball following that.
It became a contest of whose will would break first, as Li made admirable saves from Florus Romijn
, and Dob did likewise against Frank Sandmann. A tortuous half an hour in which next to nothing of note took place followed, a spell which was only broken when Moey Xin Seng
rounded an RFC defence that had pulled too far over to the right side, in the 58th minute. Moey would shave the far post, but to be honest, the goalkeeper had it covered otherwise.
Grilled were at least still getting sniffs at goal, a mission that the hosts had all but abandoned. Antti stole frequent glances at Musoni on the sidelines, but each time the reaction was the same - a firm shake of the head. Robbie Football Club would wait, for as long as it took.
There was some hint that RFC's diligent defending were wearing on them, to Grilled's encouragement, and Hovaness Noubaryan
duly prepared fresh legs with Yuki Irie
, Remco van der Ban
and Chan Ze Han
ordered to warm up. With ten minutes left, Kalki Parvathaneni
sprung into action, again giving the less-experienced Chow the runaround... only to slice his shot horribly.
That embarassing miss did at least confirm that RFC were there for the taking, and after Yuki Irie
replaced Gilbert Webb
in the 85th minute, Grilled threw everything they had against the hosts in a glorious burst of activity. Almost immediately, Cyril Künzler
went on a mazy dribble that saw him beat two men, but once again the finish failed him, and Li Liang Chu - who had the nerve to stay on his feet - blocked the oddly-paced strike.
The play was not over, and although Pedro Luis Regueyra hacked the loose ball out, it was swiftly lost to Neeraj Muthyala
. There was panic for the home team as Chu Xin Lee
looked to be first to Muthyala's finely-weighed through ball, but Li somehow recovered in time to punch it away literally from Chu's boot. Vikram Mudaliar
retrieved the ball, but had been closed down by Wong Rong Yew, causing him to cross instead of shoot... and Chu's header came back off the woodwork to be again cleared, and properly this time.
Everybody, fans and team members alike, had been on the edge of their seats at that sequence, unexpected as it was after long periods of basically nothing. The failure to score made it of little consolation to Grilled, however, and Noubaryan added to the mystery by putting Remco on instead of Chan. Then again, with only a couple of minutes of time added on to go, it probably wouldn't have made any difference.