In keeping with their giantdrawing acts of late, Grilled Birds claimed the biggest scalp of all for their first S-League win of the campaign, as they took reigning champions Sarcastic Fringeheads down at The Cooking Pot. Now this
was what the fans had been expecting in the preseason, and while it might have come too late to save the Birds, they definitely savoured it nevertheless.
This was, moreover, a Fringeheads that had just lifted the Singapore Cup, and while their league form had been relatively patchy with four defeats already, it was hard to see how a Grilled side that had achieved just the two draws could cope with them. This is without going into how the Birds were comprehensively manhandled in their earlier meeting, where they lost 1-6 in a result that barely flattered Sarcastic Fringeheads.
What the Birds did have was nothing to lose, and in Heng Dong Chu
they had something fresh on the left. Noubaryan was quite willing to tinker with his formation, and he quite clearly had Cyril Künzler
tasked with a more conservative role, unlike before where he had so often been Grilled's main outlet. Fringeheads player-coach Satrap Kabiri, probably encouraged by Bot Team FC's successful counterattacking stance against Grilled last Sunday, went for the same with a 4-3-3.
For once, however, the newly-installed Bahraini had miscalculated. Grilled had rediscovered some of their flair from last season, and when it came together, they were not to be denied. Many had forgotten just how overwhelming the Birds machinery in full flow could be, and Chu Xin Lee
would have to jog those memories, as he made something of a mockery of Vincent Chan's pressing in the seventh minute. Twirling away from Chan as the latter fell away, Chu posted Moey Xin Seng
up with an almost-casual pass, and the Grilled skipper needed no second invitation to sweep it across Tan Aik Shi.
The home support couldn't hide their not expecting that, but they adapted to the new reality readily enough. Fringeheads' answer wasn't long in coming though, and Iliya Tzonkov levelled on a compact counterattack down the middle, scarce five minutes on. Grilled's fans knew well how to be self-deprecating by now, however, and responded with chants of "That took you long enough
If the belief hadn't returned to the gallery, it had on the pitch, and there was no disguising the fact that it was Grilled that were gradually chipping away at the visitors' guard. David Koppensteiner might be a titan, but even he didn't have a ghost of a chance stemming the tide against three; it was only great good fortune that Fringeheads didn't concede against Künzler or Egan as the Birds really turned on the heat after the half-hour mark, with Tan utilizing every bit of his vast goalkeeping experience.
Grilled appeared to have secured the half-time lead thanks to Vikram Mudaliar
's breakthrough in the 39th, but Fringeheads dampened their ardour somewhat, as Kabiri paid Chu back with his own flummoxing of Neeraj Muthyala
into a magical strike. It didn't matter to those in the stands, though, as they quite rightly regarded being level by this point as something of an achievement.
It was only going to get better, and after the customary entrance of Bhavya Panigrahi
for the second half, Grilled's dominance began to take real hold. Unlike the Bots, Fringeheads couldn't impose their will in the right way, and were caught awkwardly between activity and passivity. This was not a good place to be at the Pot, and the Birds weren't about to forgive them for it.
This would be Cyril Künzler
's time to shine, after Heng Dong Chu
had sucked up all the attention on the opposite flank, and Mladen Milostić would live to regret neglecting what the Pole could do. Künzler was left free to run onto Heng's searching long ball into the middle, and while there would be a question hanging over whether Moey's blocking off Loh Wai Ho was kosher, there was no doubting the sheer beauty of Künzler's half-volley into the roof of the net. No goalie in the world could have saved that, and Tan Aik Shi was no exception.
While Tan would have far more time to prepare three minutes later, after Vikram Mudaliar
had earned a free-kick at the edge of the penalty area, the outcome would be identical as Künzler bent it into the top corner. The home fans, who hadn't taken their seats from the earlier strike, could hardly have gotten any louder at that!
Satrap Kabiri kept his head amidst all the hullabaloo, and plotted a response as the Grilled team went crazy behind the goal; off went Miljenko Kabić, and on came not-so-secret weapon Radomír Adam to face Heng on the left. This had much the intended effect, and after Fringeheads had stabilized somewhat, they pulled a goal back through Loh Wai Ho off a Tzonkov assist.
Fifteen minutes now separated Grilled from a great result, and it was Hovaness Noubaryan
's turn to play his hand - Bernie Egan
would be sacrificed for the incalculable X-factor of Chan Ze Han
, who had only just passed his late fitness test. Kabiri wasted no time in withdrawing the overworked Koppensteiner in response, and on came the like-for-like Magnus Stang to chase the game.
Noubaryan would get the better of this last tactical exchange, as Chan proved far more influential in the final going; his shared understanding with Moey was out of the ordinary, and the duo would flitter about almost carelessly in the 82nd minute, before somehow getting the ball to the onrushing Chu Xin Lee
, right beneath the massed defenders' noses. Chu accepted the return favour gladly, and poked it in for 5-3.
There would nearly be a sixth from Bhavya Panigrahi
's exuberant rocket to the crossbar, but this was frankly far, far more than enough for the delirious supporters. Unlike against the Bots and Arrogancae, there would be no last-ditch equalizer forthcoming from Sarcastic Fringeheads, who thereby handed Grilled their long-awaited S-League return victory.