Lamont Brings Lament
could not help but concede that Grilled Birds were in deep trouble, after they fell to a third consecutive league loss, this one at home to Robbie Football Club. RFC had never been particularly prolific, and had not scored more than once in the league since their 3-4 loss to Talpons in the second week, and their managing two at The Cooking Pot only cast further doubt in the Birds' defensive nous.
The earlier derby between the clubs had, of course, finished goalless, and that didn't seem like an unlikely outcome again, given how impressive Li Liang Chi had been in the Robbie goal. On the face of it, the absences of Norwegian starters Martin Holm and Morten Jensen through injury should have been to Grilled's benefit, but their replacements Frank Sandmann and Aldo Buendia were more than capable in their own right.
As it was, Noubaryan kept with his narrow style for this game, with tucked-in wingers, something that had not been universally appreciated by the fans. There was no mistaking Cyril Künzler
's effectiveness either way, though, as he weaved his merry way down the right in the 15th minute, before swinging a tasty cross over. Florus Romijn
leapt to meet it, but was unable to get a bead on the target with Buendia getting in his face.
There was no secret about Robbie's penchant for testing goalies from deep either, and Grilled's frequent attacks were oft interrupted by Massoud Dob
being called into action. Moey Xin Seng
disqualified himself for next week after his carding for a captain-to-captain altercation with Antti Ravi, and Piotr Szulżyk's decision to book only Moey didn't make him popular with the spectators, to say the least.
Grilled could well have taken the lead a few minutes later, after Moey spent his energies more productively by bursting past two opponents and slamming a shot into a defender. The ball then fell kindly for the ranging Gilbert Webb
, who only had to lift it past Li, but he cut it too close to the keeper, who managed to palm it onto the crossbar.
There was no time to sulk over that, as the visitors put themselves ahead on their next possession. Going against the grain, Buendia carried the ball well into Grilled territory by threatening to shoot several times, and capped his advance with a flourish by elegantly volleying it on for Juan Luis Sáez, who had entered Yuta Nakakita
's blind spot. Both Yuta and Dob converged on the Spanish winger, but not soon enough to prevent him from a calculated finish.
It only went from bad to worst, as Romijn tried to get Grilled back on level footing with a noteworthy dash down the left, only for Li to claw the ball off Moey's head. Grilled were clearly losing their shape as they hastened to attack, and they would fall prey to Englishman Alf Lamont's snipe from over thirty yards in the 36th minute, after he was granted far too much room.
Despite Noubaryan's animated instructions from the sidelines, the Birds hadn't fully learnt their lesson, and it could have gotten seriously ugly after RFC blitzed after another quality save by Li, this time on Chu Xin Lee
. Buendia looked sure to score as Grilled's defence fell apart at the seams, and only the rushing speed of Massoud Dob
bailed the Birds out that time.
The visitors came out much more conservative after half-time, which they could well afford to; Grilled's coordination was unbecoming, nicely put, and their forwards were finding themselves boxed out all too easily. The midfield was running clear out of ideas, and without the final resort of width, there was just no getting past RFC's massed ranks.
A change had to come, and quickly, and Noubaryan's answer was Yuki Irie
, in for Neeraj Muthyala
. The stadium commentators could understand the logic as freeing Moey and Bilal to go forward, but that did little to appease the masses, who were predictably chanting for Chan Ze Han
Still, the substitution worked much as intended, as Yuki exerting his influence on the midfield, something that even Moey had struggled to do. The veteran's slow tempo was doubly frustrating for the already riled-up home support, but it did keep the Birds from continuing to lose the ball unnecessarily. From that base, Grilled would start to launch meaningful plays.
It took a while, but RFC were tiring too, and Moey Xin Seng
would cause havoc among their backline with his decisive run straight at Chow Rong Yao. That opened the gap that Grilled were working towards, and Moey unselfishly flicked it backwards, where he knew Bilal Mohammad Harun
. The Grilled Number Six weighed his options, before taking Mohd Hafizi Mohd Hazmi on, and finally breached Li Liang Chi's goal with a monster of a strike.
The Cooking Pot responded heartily, and almost witnessed a lightning equalizer. Li's aura of indomitability was much reduced after conceding, and Grilled's belief rose accordingly. Where the visitors had held out without too much fuss, they were now in quite a sorry state, and Islom Davlatov
fell upon them in gusto. He plucked Künzler's waist-high pass out of the air with grace, and nobody would have been able to stop his blast at the roof of the net, had it been a foot lower.
Sensing his team's achievement slipping away, RFC head coach Gianfranco Musoni urged them to play for the points, and Antti Ravi knew what he had to do. Instructing his men to run it wide before putting the ball out as often as they could, he conceded much possession to Grilled, but that was enough to secure the win - and that was all that mattered.