It was troughs and peaks for Grilled Birds, as they bounced big time with their 8-1 away manhandling of top Clementi club West Coast Point Automat. The Finland-linked Automat might have been consistently ranked second or third in the region, behind only Farmer Bunnies themselves, but they were obviously a notch or two beneath the Birds too, at least on this day.
The portents were there after they sank 0-6 to JUtd in the Singapore Cup midweek, but that didn't prevent the cosy West Coast Point Aut Arena from entertaining a full house of just over twenty-nine thousand. They had run Ramseille Volliard close here, after all, even if club talisman Anish Phansalkar remained sidelined with a thigh strain from last weekend's victory against Shoryuken FC. Very much like Grilled, Automat were stacked up top after all, and Phansalkar's injury merely allowed the no less skilled Christopher Quach back in; together with RV Banothu and Joonas Kärkkäinen, they made a front three than had few equals in the division.
The Birds were therefore taking all possible measures to keep the ball off their feet as much as possible, and with both starting wingers having been off the boil, Hovaness Noubaryan
opted for the speed of Bernie Egan
and Kalki Parvathaneni
on the flanks, though they weren't natural wide men by any means. It was an awkward flag-off for them too, and more than a few attacks spluttered from the lack of an expected runner down the lines. Still, Egan did tag-team well with Vikram Mudaliar
in the 12th minute, which seemed destined to lead to a goal after Mudaliar had Raphaël Chedeville in a twist. The Number Nine scuffed a lame effort badly wide, however, to his own great consternation.
The hosts were having issues moving the ball fluidly too, but they hit their stride about the 21st minute, when Hungarian playmaker Zsolt Nemes sought Quach out successfully, with a flat through ball. Gilbert Webb
was on the verge of catching up, when the Automat striker lumped it hard and high beyond Massoud Dob
at his near post, to the unmistakable delight of the terraces behind.
Automat's high wouldn't last that long, as the Birds soon regained control, and the home team's newfound urgency to advance would instead prove their undoing. Chan Ze Han
's equalizer from Davlatov's splendid assist in the 30th wasn't enough of a warning, it appeared, and the buzzing Mudaliar hammered the message home off his right foot, just three minutes on. Kalki then very nearly had it three, with a lob over Lee De that was just a foot away, but Panigrahi scored anyway from the penalty spot, before half-time. None of the commentators could quite explain why he rolled it languidly down the centre, but it did work.
Veteran reserve custodian Lee had, as it happened, oft been critiqued as Automat's weak link, and it was indeed his slowness to react that had led to Grilled's penalty then, with Tomasz Pergół forced to hold Chan back. Lee certainly did little to counter that narrative as he leaked two more right after the break, from Kalki and Moey respectively. A better goalkeeper might well have stopped both - Antoni Montblanch couldn't return more quickly, from the look of the glum home support.
As if they hadn't suffered enough ill-fortune already, Automat would lose another player, with Brazilian sweeper Genésio Guarino off due to a turned right ankle from trying to keep up with Mudaliar. Turkish replacement Sinan Öztaş could hardly deal with the Birds' frontline either, and he was miserably off the pace when Bernie Egan
came onto Neeraj Muthyala
's slung pass in the 60th. Lee De nearly got to that one, but it was 6-1 nonetheless as he failed to keep ahold.
Vikram was all but running the show by now, and he barely slowed as the end neared, scoring a second himself before feeding Chan Ze Han
an easy eighth. The visiting fans gave him his due with a standing ovation as he exited for Prokop Mottl
a few minutes before the final whistle, and it was not surprising that he hardly wanted to leave!