Zero From Three
The Grilled set were plunged into a mini-panic, as the Birds lost their third straight match in the S-League, to become the only side without a win in this period. The sole consolation was that it was not for want of trying, as they secured around 70% of the total possession at The Cooking Pot. Mia San Toa Payoh's tried-and-tested anti-Birds tactics came through as before, sadly, as they racked up four goals on counters.
Grilled had taken just one of their six meetings with Mia San before this, an excellent 5-1 victory at this very venue; however, they would lose out 3-6 in the Singapore Cup last season, as national star Tan Tong Leong guided his team by example at Olympic Lyons Park. This would be the case today too, with Jerry Lim laid out with a calf injury from last Sunday. Faced with his absence, Portuguese gaffer Gersão Pereira Correia went for a 5-4-1 with Tan as lone frontman, a formation that they had deployed to varying effectiveness in their last few games.
There was no disguising that the visitors were inviting the Birds to come at them, with their midfield duo of Joonas Riihiniemi and Maciej Cukierski sitting very deep. Breakouts then were highly opportunistic, with the wide men in particular driving forward by ear. They were frighteningly adept at it too, from how Argentine left winger Pablo Cesar Taranto scooted down the middle, on the bounceback from Chan Ze Han
's header onto the bar. Yuta Nakakita
was having great trouble with staying between Tan Tong Leong and goal, and would be shaken off at a critical instant, as Tan continued on for the first goal of the day.
Such setbacks were only too common for Grilled nowadays, though the fans at least couldn't be upset at their general level of endeavour. It could have been very different had Chan gotten the ball a yard or so lower then, and the same applied for Kalki Parvathaneni
's snap-shot after edging past Henning Prutky, with his right-footed effort rising unstoppably beyond Victor Floroiu, before barely clearing the crossbar. Vikram Mudaliar
did his bit by holding up a free-kick, wary of what Mia San could do on the counter. He wouldn't get away with the public service, as referee Pavel Nedvěd flashed a yellow.
Unfortunately, not all of Mudaliar's teammates were as cautious as him, as the visitors managed to get a cross from deep in after 22 minutes, with much of the Grilled side confused as to whether they were still on the front foot. Gilbert Webb
would be thoroughly engaged by Riihiniemi, leaving Maciej Cukierski - who had taken up a position behind him - an open finish for 2-0.
Sections of the home fans were pointedly unamused by this point, and there would be scattered booing as the Birds' players shuffled back into their own half for the restart. Grilled were professionals through and through, luckily, and Mudaliar would lead the charge with a direct run that wreaked havoc on Mia San's left defence. Hong Kong international Ma Xiuxian, despite being a makeshift centreback, appeared to have killed the threat with a superbly-timed lunge. Mudaliar was just a split-second faster, however, and he had released the ball into the middle, right on time for Florus Romijn
to bang it right into the net.
And then they were level in the 39th, after Chan Ze Han
had played for - and gotten - a free-kick upon getting boxed in near the corner flag. Cyril Künzler
laid it short, and there was some uncertainty in the Mia San box, as Grilled dealt it all the way back to the centre circle. There was then an unexpected loft straight at the middle of the penalty area, and Bilal Mohammad Harun
somehow caught it on his chest, before slipping the equalizer past a grounded Prutky.
That had the supporters believing again, and Grilled's reception for the second half was rather warmer than it had been before. And the players largely lived up to it in the early going, with Mia San heavily compressed within their own territory. This dominance didn't translate well to goals, however, with the visitors always managing to have an extra body where they needed it, up until and including Bilal's deflected thunderbolt in the 63rd minute.
The corner turned out as poorly as it could have for the Birds, as Ma rose highest - perhaps aided by a teammate - to send the ball away with his towering header. The break was well and truly on once Gilbert Webb
lost out to Tan Tong Leong on the follow-up, and even though the Scottish defender managed to stay on Tan with some handsiness, Pablo Cesar Taranto would be uncatchable blazing in from the right, as Künzler found himself hopelessly behind from having taken the corner that started it all.
It was hard to swallow for the Birds, who had been doing so well before that, and they never quite regained their erstwhile vibrancy. Bhavya Panigrahi
was something of an obvious substitution for the off-colour Yuta Nakakita
, but that wouldn't help. With 79 minutes gone, and with most of the Grilled team camping in the attacking half, a simple long ball out would be enough for Ma Xiuxian to all but shut the match down.
This had Hovaness Noubaryan
throw Bernie Egan
on for Kalki, with Neeraj Muthyala
also joining the fray right before injury time, but Mia San Toa Payoh completed the job that they had set out to without much ado.