Size Of The Fight
Chan All Grown Up
Grilled returned to Division Two with another hounding of premier Orchard club Singapore Big Dogs, their third win in three meets, though the first in the league. Unlike their previous cup lineups, the Big Dogs were fielding their strongest at The Cooking Pot, with 35 year-old homegrown skipper Chirag Ekbote specially dropping into midfield to help out. It was also the first time regulars such as former national youth star Deng Yew Leong, Czech Number Nine René Hofer and midfield stopper Alex Zhang would appear against the Birds, which caused the commentators to remark that this might be considered the first true
clash between the sides.
The opening exchanges didn't run counter to that narrative, with the visitors having adopted specific countermeasures targeting Grilled's strengths, such as arranging a tight back three, with Leong Chu Shun and Vinod Modi operating as defensive wingbacks first and foremost. This was enough to break up Grilled's first few possessions, at least until Cyril Künzler
took Leong on for pace in the eighth minute. The Big Dogs leftback was known for being fleet of foot himself, but Künzler had stolen a march on him, and he was fortunate that the Pole had to stretch to reach Moey Xin Seng
's pass, before nicking it barely wide.
Singapore Big Dogs quite openly angled to play on the break, as their wingbacks rotated purposefully in advanced positions in preparation; this was easier planned than done, and Tay Ting Lee would be booked in the 12th minute, in surreptitiously restraining Bilal Mohammad Harun
once too many. Their payoff would arrive some six minutes later, as Heng Dong Chu
lost Modi on the left. Modi laid it on short to Swedish defender Dietrich Venzin, who raked it beyond Massoud Dob
with all his momentum.
It was a blow to the Birds, but it didn't stay that way for too long, as they kept up the attacking impetus. For all the trouble they had last season, they were always a force when on song, and Islom Davlatov
was certainly doing his bit, having been picked over Vikram Mudaliar
to start. Davlatov's little reverse pass gave Chan Ze Han
space to work in, and the Birds prodigy duly teased Venzin by showing him the ball, before pulling it across his body, and zooming inside Sorin Ciugudean to equalize.
That shook the visitors more than they realized at the time, and the Big Dogs' gameplan started to disintegrate. Grilled could afford to camp in their territory with Neeraj Muthyala
serving as a pseudo-sweeper, so assured were they in possession, and Davlatov chipped ex-Indonesian U-20 goalie Wicaksana Mabenda with an exquisite lob in the 32nd. Heng, who had not been at his best to say the least, came up strongly down his flank a few minutes on, but Ciugudean just about cleared the whipped cross right before Moey Xin Seng
Grilled's embarrassment of riches had them put Mudaliar for Davlatov on for the second half, as Hovaness Noubaryan
sought to press their advantage with a more direct approach. His Big Dogs counterpart Teng Jian Wai had them stick with counterattacking, but this in effect meant trying to absorb all of Grilled's probes without erring. Ekbote was oft left in the unfamiliar position of defensive mid, as the Birds moved the ball about the perimeter of their penalty area, and Gilbert Webb
wasn't far off with his opportunistic hook towards the top corner in the 61st.
Something had to give as the Birds continued pressing in, and it was the visiting defence, as Moey Xin Seng
finally swept cleanly past Tomas Svensson, after 69 minute. The Swedish defender had been more or less impeccable before this, but it only took one mistake for Grilled to be 3-1 up. Chan sure knew how to twist the knife in as he drove right at the Big Dogs' backline straight afterwards, and he got just enough behind his grounder, for it to bobble in off the upright.
Mabenda would minimally be able to keep Cyril Künzler
's close-up headed effort out as the Big Dogs dug in, and they would then have their best opportunity of the half, after Yuta Nakakita
's substitution on for Panigrahi. The Birds defence hadn't set itself when Tomas Svensson flighted a precise long pass nearly the length of the pitch for the onrushing Deng Yew Leong, who however misread the bounce, to the travelling fans' collective dismay.
Mudaliar had one more go at scoring, as he did his favourite diagonal dribble straight in from the right in the 83rd minute, and opted to cut inside to shoot; Mabenda somehow got his leg out, however. There would be little worthy of mention after this final spike in excitement, and Heng would troop off for Prokop Mottl
in injury time, as Noubaryan sought to collect the victory without further complications.