Grilled Birds 2 - 2 Haha
Grilled Birds reconfirmed that they were no longer a force to be trifled with at The Cooking Pot, but Woodlands visitors Haha left with a point nonetheless, coming behind late on before settling in the rain. An energetic if not usually elegant display left the already-ravaged pitch in shambles by the end.
French referee Alexis Drame gave serious consideration towards postponing the game, in light of the continual downpour, which had turned the place into what might have passed for a paddy field after unbroken hours. The captains seemingly advised against it, after being called out for a discussion before kick-off, and Drame solemnly acceded.
Haha, as with many visiting sides, had tailored their approach specially for the Birds, appearing in a 4-5-1. There may be some changes to their squad makeup soon too, with 36 year-old former national teamer Vignesh Iyer - who had scored against Grilled earlier in the season - up for grabs for S$1.3 million. Likewise, Finnish defensive midfielder Valtteri Turpeenniemi was reportedly available for the right price.
Such trivia was, in fact, mostly what the commentators had to work with, from how dire the proceedings were turning out to be. It was getting hard to speak of possession meaningfully, with so much consisting of the players sloshing through puddles. Happily, the skies would begin to clear, and the standard of football started to step up a notch.
It would be Haha who first took advantage, though, and Cory Trang - who had last scored against Grilled in Kim Tae Hee FC colours - continued where he had left off, after a barren cup final meeting representing Puh erh. Ever the enterprising fellow, Trang pushed forward by himself without shyness in the 23rd minute when allowed to by the Birds, and found Massoud Dob
wanting with an impetuous strike in off the foot of his post.
Grilled picked themselves up, and could have had something in the 29th, after captain Moey Xin Seng
hit the grass a few steps inside Haha's penalty area. Replays showed marginal contact by Aw Tian Jin, but evidently not enough for Drame, who waved play on. No matter, as they were level five minutes later, with Cyril Künzler
banging a cross inside. Vikram Mudaliar
, never a renowned header of the ball, managed to put considerable power behind his attempt with an exaggerated snap of his torso, which was just about enough to get it past Carlos Andino's approach.
Haha could have conceded another in the very next minute, following an ill-advised idea from Neo Nie Yew to switch play to the opposite flank in defence, with his underhit floater pounced on by Neeraj Muthyala
; this became a two-on-one with Muthyala and Mudaliar bearing down on Aw, and the former would find the crossbar on his own, to a premature outburst from fans seated behind goal.
Second-half substitute Bhavya Panigrahi
came on as scheduled, and the Birds resumed the match claiming the initiative. Haha's back ranks were getting precariously compressed, and Grilled found themselves with plenty of room to operate, now and then. Bilal Mohammad Harun
, ever convinced of his own potency from afar, gleefully made full use of the space afforded to pump a shot into the top corner, 57 minutes in.
This was not the worst of it for Haha either, from how former national U-20 defender Ng Yun Shi twisted his left ankle in trying to prevent Bilal's shot from going off. Bangladeshi centreback Anwar Khan was then recalled to action, but he was unable to stem Grilled's ongoing barrage. Close shaves from Muthyala and Mudaliar - the pairing of the moment - made it abundantly clear that Haha were reeling, and their newly-installed Turkish head coach Yalçın Akeda was observed studying the proceedings intently, in search of a solution.
Akeda's response was to introduce Qatari veteran Yaqoub Al-Hamed for Vignesh Iyer, with the sub also exchanging positions with Cory Trang when it suited them. This paid immediate dividends, with Yaqoub perfectly placed to score, after Noa Nemarić's tasty low centering ball was dummied on by Basilio Rampazzi. Gilbert Webb
threw Yaqoub off then, but Neo Nie Yew was behind him to finish anyhow.
It was then the visitors' turn to frighten the home supporters, as they found joy down the right side once more. Nemarić would realize that Heng Dong Chu
was rather less imposing on the back foot than front, and burst forth to slip Rampazzi through, in the 73rd minute. Only excellent positioning by Massoud Dob
kept Grilled from falling to the comeback, as he stuck a leg out to redirect Rampazzi's drive off his far post and out.
One way or another, Haha evidently decided that they were not about to press for the win, and stationed themselves to execute counters. Grilled wouldn't take the bait, even with Bernie Egan
and Chan Ze Han
arriving as late subs, and the clubs mutually resolved to avoid defeat.