There was humiliation at The Cooking Pot for Grilled Birds today, as they suffered their worst-ever league whitewash on their ground. Not only that, it came completely out of left field, with visitors Batok Earthquakes having lost their previous two matches in II.4, and that without even scoring. True, they might have steamrolled Tampines Rovers Football Club 10-0 in the midweek Emerald Challenger Cup fixture, with Wee Chuan Han bagging four, but that was merely the usual stuffing of a semi-pro side - or so most thought.
Now, the Birds were not without their own issue too, having just stumbled glaringly against ~Pollen~, but that was seen as an aberration by the fanbase; and what better way to get back on track, than against the basement dwellers? Wee's heroics aside, he remained a fresh 18 year-old trainee, and had been tasked to guard the Earthquakes' centre together with fellow academy graduate Ong Rong Jing. On paper, this backline was ripe for the shredding by Grilled's attack of Chan Ze Han
, Moey Xin Seng
and Vikram Mudaliar
Alas, the script didn't go as expected. The first twenty minutes or so wouldn't suggest anything out of the ordinary, though, as Grilled entered a sort of passing trace, as they methodically moved the ball from side to side in an effort to unravel the visitors' concentration. Earthquakes were dealing with it fairly comfortably, thanks to the tireless midfield cover from skipper Egil Borch and former Shining Lights U-20 star Kirk Johnson. It took eighteen minutes before Mudaliar snuck up onto Chan's cute disguised pass for the first shot on target, only for Valentin Mrejeru to punch it well clear with both fists.
Mrejeru certainly could have done with the breather, as the Birds retrieved on the half-way line, having pushed almost entirely into Earthquakes' territory. In fact, Bhavya Panigrahi
had advanced so far, that he was the furthest man forward when Islom Davlatov
put it back in the box. The take was weak, sadly, and Earthquakes would break in numbers down the middle, with Johnson placing the finishing touch beyond Massoud Dob
The restart saw a sudden upturn in nastiness, with Sörren Gassenmeyer launching himself into Bilal Mohammad Harun
with next to no remorse afterwards. Mudaliar would retaliate with a purposeful trip on Gassenmeyer, which had him follow the German into the referee's black book. Back to the football, Bilal razed a path down the left but slung it a yard wide in the 30th minute, while Earthquakes were again lethal going down the middle, with French forward Yohann Delaunay springing Grilled's offside trap for their second. The referee consulted with his linesman on Moey Xin Seng
's persistent protests, but the decision stood.
Ridiculous as it might seem, the same story repeated itself a third time early in the second half, with the visitors again exploiting Grilled Birds on the break. Chan Ze Han
, who missed his lob this time, was yelling at his teammates to fall back quickly, but still too late as Lim Cheng Hui carried it down the right flank at a sprint. There was much jostling for position as the cross came in, and Gilbert Webb
managed to tie Ronald Kiriwawanvu up, but this left Delaunay to lash it home on the bounce, for 3-0. Not a few Birds fans were seen getting up at this, and who could blame them?
The visitors were on a roll now, as even Grilled's maintainence of possession didn't lend them much teeth, and Delaunay nearly made it a hat-trick in the 58th with an exuberant whipped strike on the run; it was stopped only by the crossbar. There was a grimness to Grilled's attempts now, with Mudaliar again becoming the focal point through his sudden dashes. He did enter successfully in the 67th minute, only for Mrejeru to save it off his fingertips.
And if three times, why not four? Other teams could have settled for limiting the damage, seeing as how fortune was against them, but Grilled continued as they always had - as to whether this stubborness was admirable, opinions may differ. All their hard work brought was a free-kick quickly taken and then robbed off Panigrahi in the 80th minute, which was then turned into a counterattack and scored upon by Lim Cheng Hui. Even Hovaness Noubaryan
was over it now, from how that goal elicited no further reaction from the normally-animated head coach.
wasn't exactly smiling when he replaced Kalki late on, after Yuta Nakakita
's own entry for Panigrahi, and neither substitution would prevent Gassenmeyer from piling the misery on with a stunner in extra time.