The week went from bad to worse for the embattled Birds, as they were put down 2-5 by East Coast-based Division Three frontrunners, BuddyBoys. The Boys were flying high, having won their first four matches quite comfortably - and from their high-profile transfers in the off season, chief among them the mammoth S$15.3 million acquisition of German midfielder Tom Schulte-Holthaus, not a few commentators regarded them as clearly too good for the division.
And it was not as if Schulte-Holthaus was an outlier, either; he had arrived at the same time as the well-regarded Szabolcs Fogl and Kia Sheykhlari, the latter whom would be rested for this match. On top of a formidable backline anchored by Italian skipper Fabrizio De Pauli, there would be the playmaking big man Ladislav Šablatúra, and of course, former Scottish international forward Matthew MacCleary. The core of this unit had taken Haha to eliminate from the Singapore Cup last season, and one had the feeling that a less-than-optimally arrayed Grilled Birds would find themselves in trouble against this setup.
How it happened was almost all too sadly predictable, though the Birds' unfamiliar forward line did little that was explicitly wrong - it was just that BuddyBoys' five-strong backline usually had an extra man or two to spare against attacks. This was the situation that faced Neeraj Muthyala
when he sized De Pauli up in the 16th minute, as the Grilled Number Four got dispossessed by Dan Şişcu coming in from the back. Seconds later, BuddyBoys' counter was at full tilt, and MacCleary would find the tiny gap between Massoud Dob
and his near post, to kickstart the scoring.
The story would basically repeat on the hour, after several eye-catching dribbles from Kalki Parvathaneni
were crowded out by a mass of bodies. A single long ball out of defence was nodded on by tall Kenyan forward Joshua Mutumba, as Islom Davlatov
committed himself unwisely, and Mutumba would finish after two long strides. Kalki would at least pull one back in the 32nd minute, as he finally got one over De Pauli with his famed acceleration over ten yards, as Chu Xin Lee
's wild strike got half-parried by Alonso Espinoza.
From how Davlatov had struggled at centreback, it was no wonder that Hovaness Noubaryan
brought specialist defender Bhavya Panigrahi
back into the fray following the half-time break. This brought an immediate improvement to the Birds' stability, and chances began to swing Grilled's way with some consistency. Bernie Egan
equalized through pace as Kalki had, by outsprinting Röbi Dusen in the 56th. Bilal Mohammad Harun
, who had been hardworking if not particularly impactful as target man, then came close to giving Grilled the lead with a power header from Moey Xin Seng
's tee-up; Espinoza however met it with an incredible spring.
That was the final turning point of the game, and one that Grilled never recovered from. De Pauli kept his composure magnificently to evade Chan Ze Han
's follow-up, and after changing direction, slotted the ball neatly into the left channel for Szabolcs Fogl to chase. Omani defender Abdulbaqy Zakariya Al-Mazrooy was among those that had seized the moment to join in on the breakout, and he wound up sliding with the ball into the net, as several players converged onto Fogl's late cross.
Nearly the same scenario played out a few minutes later, with another Bilal attempt turned into a BuddyBoys return, that Tom Schulte-Holthaus fortunately didn't do justice. Moey Xin Seng
tried to take matters into his own hands by forcing his way through Erlend Refvik's man-marking, but couldn't get his ideal shot off with Refvik remaining in his orbit. Instead, it would be the Norwegian who would score barely two minutes later for BuddyBoys' fourth, as Grilled's defence went missing.
It was, suffice to say, an extremely frustrating outing for the guys in green, who teased at having the upper hand with the bulk of possession and the ball in the opposition half most of the time, and yet were two goals behind. Alonso Espinoza could account for much of that, as he proved himself adept in various facets of the goalkeeping art - Bernie Egan
was on course to keep Grilled within touching distance in the 80th minute, as he wove his way inside from the corner of the penalty area, but Espinoza was there yet again, with a great reaction stop.
BuddyBoys weren't done with the scoring either, and after another counterattack had Massoud Dob
just about taking it off Matthew MacCleary, Röbi Dusen recovered and killed the game off from close up.