Bigging It Up
The 3-1 loss to Mia San Toa Payoh was just about what most punters' models had predicted, but its nature nonetheless remained a deep wound to Grilled's fragile self-belief. The Birds never quite looked like taking this after ten minutes or so, and the hosts rolled them over at the HDB Stadium thereafter. It could well have been more, had it not been for heroics from the Birds' defensive unit.
Mia San had prevailed 3-2 in the second week of the season in Jurong, and that with their reserve goalkeeper. With Gheorghe-Daniel Stanoiev back between the posts and their fans behind them, German head coach Vico Backnang would pick a 3-5-2 formation to start the day with, instead of a staid 4-4-2. The two at the top were a constant, it went without saying - national strikers Tan Tong Leong and Jerry Lim.
On the Birds' end, Moey Xin Seng
was benched for the third straight league match, which will surely do the rumours about a falling-out with Hovaness Noubaryan
no good. Golden boy Chan Ze Han
would instead be placed at the centre of Grilled's attacks, between the pacy double act of Kalki and Mudaliar. Gilbert Webb
didn't start a competitive game for the first time this season, with Hoàng Trung Quá
instead trusted with keeping Tan quiet.
As it was, Noubaryan's arrangements didn't look too bad at all for a bit. His side did have honest speed, especially in wide areas, and Mia San were funnelled down the middle on the retreat. After a number of crosses failed to have the intended effect, Cyril Künzler
would cut in on his weaker foot, to shake things up. His whipped strike was on target, but not nearly special enough to work Stanoiev.
The effectiveness of Grilled's pace would peter out extremely quickly, as the hosts got used to it, although Romijn did leave Azrinuddin bin Hj Erywan with a twisted ankle following a razor-sharp turn. Mia San was far superior when it came to the end product, and they got themselves in front through Gevanni Abbeloos, 25 minute in. Jerry Lim knew just what to do to clear the way, and the leftback was deadly accurate with his right foot.
Lim showed just why he is considered Singapore's top forward currently, as he doubled Mia San's lead from a very tight spot in the 31st minute. The free-kick appeared to have come to nothing, no thanks to Islom Davlatov
's assertiveness in the air, but Norberto Osvaldo Fernández Löbbe managed to get the slightest of nicks. This was enough for Lim, who proved his goal-a-game clip for the Lions no fluke with a cracker that went in off the far post.
Against such quality, one could hardly fault any defence, and in any case Grilled's were working overtime and holding up decently besides. They had to rely on the woodwork to help out against Tan Tong Leong's fine effort, nevertheless, but Massoud Dob
's flying save against another Jerry Lim special, three minutes before half-time, was a sight to behold. Lim quite classily helped Dob up after that, in a show of respect from one international to another.
Webb would rejoin the fray for the second half, with Hoàng clearly having given just about all he had against perhaps the best local strikeforce in the land, but he would only keep Mia San out for all of four minutes. There was an element of luck involved for this one, with Oleg Usik's flat header inadvertently changing direction after hitting Bilal Mohammad Harun
, who had his back turned.
The home support was really getting into the mood now, and a quite embarassing scoreline was well within the realms of possibility, with Tan and Lim in top spirits. Webb exhibited his worth with several stone-cold tackles with no margin of error, and Vikram Mudaliar
did his thing, almost getting one back. While he had beaten Lastdrager twice, however, Stanoiev was made of rather sterner stuff, and got low in a flash to ward his drive off.
It returned to a battle of sheer survival for the Birds, as they were dunked on by Mia San's attackers at every opportunity. Tan Tong Leong seemed certain to score after Usik cleft Grilled's defence in the 76th minute, but he uncharacteristically lifted it a yard or so high. Jerry Lim then came back for seconds, but his lob - coming after tricking Yuta Nakakita
- was likewise overhit.
Just when all hope seemed to have gone for a Grilled response, Chan Ze Han
went after a wild clearance at the other end, and managed to claim Grilled's second corner of the match off it. This, it turned out, was all that they needed. Nearly all of the Birds were piled inside or around the Mia San penalty area for their shot at redemption, and Bilal got right into Stanoiev's face to force the mistake - one that he killed off himself.
The home team were definitely not happy about that, but referee Akin Okon made it clear that his decision was final. They would soon be distracted by Dick McCandless' pained retirement to the sidelines, clutching his left calf. Antonio Santolalla came on for the Irish winger right before Joonas Riihiniemi's superb cross at Tan, which the veteran however again miscued.