Away to the defending S-League champs was exactly where the Birds would rather have not been, given their need to regain points and self-belief, and the entirely-expected happened downtown today. There was scaffolding over sections of Sarcastic Fringehead Arena, with work ongoing to expand its current capacity of 77000, but they managed to fit in some sixty-two thousand to watch the one-sided beatdown anyway.
Few held out much hope for Grilled over a Fringeheads team that had won their last seven in all competitions, including Hattrick Masters victories over Pakistani icons The little babblers and Iraqi Al-Dawry Al-Momtaz kings Neo Team, but Hovaness Noubaryan
refused to deviate from the Plan A that had not worked out for them thus far. Fringeheads for their part stayed with the attacking 2-5-3 that had taken them past Mia San, if with some tactical mixups like Radomír Adam on the left, and a tightened central defensive unit of national veteran Loh Wai Ho and Vincent Chan.
The duo wouldn't be tested much anyhow, as the hosts snuffed out most threats before they penetrated any distance, with their especially-experienced midfield serving as a rotating shield of sorts. At the other end, Bulgarian striker Iliya Tzonkov didn't waste much time probing either, as he challenged Gilbert Webb
head-on with his first possession in the third minute. Grilled's Number Five was slightly shaky at the outset, but came up with a wonderfully-measured tackle to deny Tzonkov then.
Grilled expended their full head of steam in the first twenty minutes, but Fringeheads dealt with their narrow attacks with relative ease - their best opportunity would be Bilal Mohammad Harun
's first-time half-volley from just outside the area after Mudaliar had been stopped, but Tan Aik Shi got his body behind the shot then. Bilal would wind up at fault for Fringeheads' opener in the 29th, as he was embarassed by Tzonkov's footwork, after he had been left alone with him as the hosts spread it around with a practised facility.
As if that were not bad enough, the Birds would be smashed by a triple whammy several minutes later. There appeared no real threat as Roope Husu advanced with little in the way of support, but a flurry of exacting motion saw Vincent Chan end up stroking it past Massoud Dob
. That goal aside, Kalki Parvathaneni
would be sent off for his crunching late slide from behind on Husu, while Gilbert Webb
wouldn't be able to continue either, having absorbed the full force of Baptista's initial shot, below the belt.
If Grilled were seeking sympathy for their ill fortune, they weren't about to bet much of it from the uncompromising home fans, who bayed for blood at that. Bhavya Panigrahi
replaced the stricken Webb, but with the Birds short a man, Fringeheads were free to attack with impunity. David Koppensteiner made it 3-0 in the 39th as Kabić peeled off Florus Romijn
, which was evidently enough of a lead that prompted Fringeheads player-coach Satrap Kabiri to rest Tzonkov and Salman Al-Qasem early, moreover with himself replacing Al-Qasem in the frontline.
Al-Qasem might have felt a bit cheated, as Fringeheads almost immediately score twice more, as Kabić and Husu bombed good headers home, thanks to willing service from the flanks. Both were arguably due more to incompetency on the part of the defenders than any exceptional aerial ability, with Yuta Nakakita
particularly disappointing in his challenges. Dob was clearly negligent with Husu' goal too, as he barely moved when confronted with the probably-saveable dipping effort.
Half-time couldn't have come more quickly for a Birds XI on the verge of a total breakdown, and it was all their coaching staff and skipper could do, to attend to some of their more-affected teammates. The fixture was obviously not salvageable, which however seemed to lift a burden off Grilled for the second half; they sat much deeper with an intent to limit the damage, with Mudaliar and Chan unselfishly harrying opponents whenever they could.
restored his reputation to an extent with two excellent stops off Magnus Stang in a matter of minutes, the first one in the 54th when the Norwegian midfielder was left free on a contested corner. Soon afterwards, Radomír Adam found the ideal pass that parted Grilled's packed defence, but Stang again could not find a way past the goalie.
The hosts were not about to pass up this chance to boost their goal difference despite Stang's failure in that respect, and there was an air of inevitability around Radomír Adam's slow but sure inching up their left flank, with plenty of assistance from his midfield. Cyril Künzler
followed as best as he could, but with the other Grilled players unwilling to leave the middle, Adam had the space to play it sideways for Kabić. The Croat seemed to have run out of room on the goalline, but somehow squeezed his second goal of the night around Dob and into the far corner.
The Birds were at least not without their brief flare of glory, after Dob punched Kabić's free-kick attempt back into play in the 68th minute, denying him his hat-trick. Panigrahi was onto it in a flash, and broke out of Fringeheads' press convincingly with some excellent tenacity on the ball. Chan Ze Han
still had much to do with Loh and Chan having stayed back, but he somehow managed to dance past the former, before avoiding the latter and burying the consolation goal past Tan Aik Shi.
That was, alas, no more than a token gesture, and the hosts would slow the game to their liking after that, with Mladen Milostić in for Adam. Moey Xin Seng
would try to get some moves going, but that was not going to work against a Fringeheads team already watching for it.