It is a rare match that contains not one, but two dramatic recoveries, and Grilled's Cup Round of Sixteen game against Mia San Toa Payoh certainly qualified. Very sadly, it would be the Birds who would wind up on the wrong end of the second, definitive comeback, as Mia San enhanced their reputation as their new bogey team.
Grilled were, it went without saying, no stranger to Jerry Lim and Tan Tong Leong, with Mudaliar having just lined up with the latter for the national side. Hovaness Noubaryan
pulled a small surprise by not starting the in-form Islom Davlatov
, instead returning Chu Xin Lee
to the team. Nine wins in a row had the fans confident in his decisions, however - a faith that would be sorely shaken in the beginning.
All eyes were on Jerry Lim, given that the natural-born hotshot had scored in each of his three previous appearances against Grilled, and there was plenty of worry when he teased Gilbert Webb
with his nifty footwork in the eighth minute. It was all that Webb could do, to take Lim out before he entered the penalty area. For some reason, Webb escaped a booking, and Henning Prutky's free-kick kept rising high over.
There wasn't much of a respite for the Birds, who found themselves falling back into bad old habits against their old foes. When they did have possession, they threw far too many forward in search of the opener, and were punished for it by Tan Tong Leong in the sixteenth minute. A little later, Cyril Künzler
found himself undermanned against Dick McCandless' sharp cut inside, and two first-time flicks saw the Irishman double Mia San Toa Payoh's lead with aplomb.
Moey Xin Seng
was instrumental in Grilled keeping it together after that swift one-two blow, as he concentrated on steadying his teammates' emotions with long spells of high-percentage passing. That wouldn't rescue the situation by itself, clearly, and for that, Chan Ze Han
was the man to call. The 22 year-old was reliable beyond his age, as he oh-so-smoothly ran onto Bernie Egan
's proffered through ball for 2-1 in the 34th minute.
More was to come as the Birds came fully into themselves, and it was Mia San Toa Payoh's turn to look frazzled. Midfield secret weapon Bilal Mohammad Harun
would once more make ample use of his seldom-displayed dribbling ability, to unlock the Mia San defence; Eleazar Morgado was unwilling to go to ground with Bilal in full flight within the box, and his team would pay the price as Bilal equalized.
To neutrals, there had to be little doubt that Grilled finished the first half the more strongly, and Noubaryan would move to solidify this advantage, by withdrawing Moey for Kalki Parvathaneni
. What the team lost in leadership and determination was more than made up for with pure, unmitigated speed, as Kalki duly accelerated through to give Grilled the lead for the first time, barely four minutes after coming on.
This was the high point of the match for an unstoppable-looking Grilled Birds, who were all but raring to blow their opponents away. English referee James Nightingale would however turn it all on its head out of nowhere, proving how transitory football fortunes could be. Jerry Lim would seem to collapse by himself, backing into Florus Romijn
, in the 54th minute. To Romijn and friends' disbelief, Nightingale pointed immediately to the spot, and Henning Prutky wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth as he smartly sent Massoud Dob
the wrong way.
The turn of events was entirely unacceptable to Romijn, who had to be kept from blowing up at the match officials, and it was only after much emergency counselling that he could carry on as before. Grilled's aura of inevitability was lost, however, and Tan Tong Leong would keep a firm hand on the proceedings, exactly as Moey had done before him.
Grilled got altogether too predictable as the end approached, and Cyril Künzler
would try to probe for gaps by himself, but no to avail as Mia San closed shop. Künzler would wind up caught by Oleg Usik as he travelled the breadth of the pitch, Usik picked out Ma Xiuxian after taking it well into Grilled's half, and Ma unleashed a rocket past Dob in mid-stride.
Now back to chasing the game, Noubaryan threw a just-recovered Neeraj Muthyala
on for Chu, but alas, the same remedy wouldn't work twice. Usik himself would make it 5-3 just two minutes later, and a narrow miss from Bilal would be turned into a sixth for Mia Sia, thanks to Franciszek Odziemczyk; Grilled's day would be summed up by a tearful Bernie Egan
cradling his right leg, as the final whistle went.