6 - 1 Grilled Birds
No Laughing Matter
Grilled's disastrous return to the top flight got even worse, as they fell 1-6 to Woodlands side Haha, before a crowd of some 67000 at Hehe Arena. Short on confidence and shorn of their usual joy in playing, the Birds were patently ineffective as they yielded goal after preventable goal in a shambolic and perhaps even gutless display.
It wasn't even as if the diehard supporters were expecting too much either, although they recognized that if Grilled were to get points soon, Haha was as good a prospect as any. Their latest meeting in the Singapore Cup four seasons back had ended 6-2 in favour of the Birds, and Haha had moreover lost their previous two league games too, to United Legends FC and Bot Team FC. Former Grilled star Ang Leong Kum had featured for Haha then, but the 36 year-old is no longer at the club, having recently transferred to São Tomé e Príncipe side Procom kickers with a view to a future coaching role.
That said, Hehe Area had been something of a fortress for the hosts recently, having won as they have their latest five competitive matches at home. Much of this could be attributed to their Turkish Number Nine Arif Hadice, who would be supported by Nicholas Foo on the right today in an asymmetric but notably pacy forward tandem. In defence, it soon became clear that Nasrul Haq Khairil Syahmi had been tasked to track fellow former Singapore U-20 international Chan Ze Han
as closely as possible, not that Chan would shy away from contact.
The match would soon be decided at the other end of the pitch, though. Barely six minutes had gone by, when Polish playmaker Jarosław Kerber drifted smoothly into the space left behind by the Birds' backline, as they were lured deep by Hadice and Foo. Massoud Dob
had positioned himself properly, but Kerber raked it across Bilal Mohammad Harun
's trailing leg and to the far corner, leaving the goalie entirely wrongfooted.
Haha extended their lead in the 18th minute when Foo took Yuta Nakakita
on directly, and held the centreback off for long enough to plant the second goal in the same spot. Foo wouldn't slack off on his pressing duties either, as he would soon afterwards cop a yellow card for sliding into Moey Xin Seng
; had he been slightly nimbler, however, it might well have been a fruitful interception then. In between, Grilled's best attempt would be a Cyril Künzler
bender on a twenty-yarder free-kick, but Carlos Andino watched that all the way.
Arif Hadice was next on the scoresheet in the 35th minute , and the home fans definitely enjoyed it when he left Gilbert Webb
floundering in his wake with an exaggerated swipe of his front foot, before knocking it home using his other leg, leaving Dob no time to react. Kalki Parvathaneni
came through to score as he did during the teams' last clash, snapping up a block by Andino, but veteran former national midfielder Vignesh Iyer would put Haha back up, with his forwards again having methodically picked the Birds' defenders apart with creative passing.
, having not been able to contribute much previously, would finally earn his keep with a magical punch to Ng Yun Shi's homing effort; Grilled turned that into a blinding raid down the right flank, as Künzler tore away with Neo Nie Yew for once having advanced too far. Yuta Nakakita
did everything right but the finish, and Grilled ended up eating the blowback as Haha countered the counter to score via Noa Nemarić.
It was a very dispirited Grilled who trooped off at half-time, but the pain was hardly over for them. Hovaness Noubaryan
, seeing as there was little further to lose, replaced the slowing Yuta Nakakita
with Bhavya Panigrahi
at half-time, followed by Neeraj Muthyala
, who took over from Bilal Mohammad Harun
in central midfield.
There would then be a bizarre incident, as Muthyala lasted not even a minute, before he got into a horrific tangle with Jarosław Kerber. The two had gone all-in on a loose ball in an attempt to set the tone for the remainder of the game, but Muthyala would end up folding his right knee under his own weight. The replays were abruptly cut off after the cameramen realize how graphic the injury was, and the fans, recognizing its severity, gave a standing ovation as the sedated player was stretchered off.
Slightly surprisingly, Noubaryan would put Hoàng Trung Quá
on with both Bernie Egan
and Islom Davlatov
available, which the commentator interpreted as an unwillingness to risk them in a lost cause. The Grilled team did little to deny this assumption, as their play descended into sloppiness only too easily. Chan Ze Han
remained largely in Nasrul's pocket, and Arif Hadice would make it six after Florus Romijn
failed to deal with Qatari international Yaqoub Al-Hamed's slide-rule assist.
Hadice might even have completed his hat-trick after charging clear in the 70th minute, but he then put too much behind his shot, with the goal at his mercy. Vignesh Iyer also found an opening several minutes on, to a similar ending.