Enchanting Ze Han
The Birds turned their attention back to league business without missing a beat, and wiped Joker 9 at home without too much fuss. There was no telling which face of the Jokers would turn up, with there already having been one big win and corresponding big loss for the Geylang mainstays this season. Ho Ah Kian having just declared his intention to leave had severely affected their attack, though, and while it wasn't as it their depth there was lacking - U-20 talents Yu Kong Han and Tay Woon Chun had both already featured against Grilled, for one - they simply lacked that something at The Cooking Pot.
The attendance, coming in at just over 37000, was rather disappointing in welcoming back a side that had just picked up the Emerald Challenger Cup, but the players weren't about to let it get them down. Hovaness Noubaryan
could afford the luxury of keeping Moey Xin Seng
and Vikram Mudaliar
on the bench for kick-off, with Chan Ze Han
entrusted with leadership and midfield duties. For the Jokers, Jae-Jun Kim saw no reason to deviate from their usual gameplan, so it would again be a mirror contest of hold-nothing-back 2-5-3 formations.
The last two had been decided by relatively fine margins, despite the exaggerated final scorelines, with plenty determined by which team rode their swings the best; this was not true for this game. Joker 9's loss of playing character through the absence of Ho was evident, and they were unable to convince when on the ball. The necessary consequence was that Grilled were left with few qualms in forging ahead, which could only have one outcome eventually. Cyril Künzler
managed to send more than a few crosses in from the right, and Kalki Parvathaneni
glanced one of those in by the 17th minute.
This opener was immediately followed by another strike from Chan Ze Han
, who might have waylaid a couple of long passes before that, but who however was unimpeachable come his moment. He carried it to the edge of the penalty area as the Joker 9 defence hustled to cover his outlets, to which his natural instinct was to go it himself, and wonderfully too. There was a lull of sorts about now as Tobias Wurzinger imposed himself, but the balance remained against the visitors, and Bernie Egan
hosed Wu Seng An in the 33rd to extend his scoring streak against the Jokers to three consecutive matches.
A terrible accident would then occur, unfortunately, as Islom Davlatov
went to ground in absolute agony after rolling his right ankle, trying to twist sharply against Wu on the left. The defender then compounded the pain by stepping on that foot, in trying to recover his position with his back turned. It was a clear emergency to all in the vicinity, who wasted no time in signalling for the medical team and stretcher-bearers.
The referee was perhaps mistaken when he awarded the free-kick to Grilled for that, not that Davlatov's teammates were going to look a gift horse in the mouth. The initial take from Mudaliar spun off a defender and behind, after which Künzler dropped the corner kick right on top of Neeraj Muthyala
, for a straightforward fourth. Several minutes later, Kalki had a relatively tame effort let in by Gert-Jan van Boshuizen, but one sensed that the goalkeeper was close to beyond caring by then.
Little changed after the break, with Grilled Birds apparently having been urged to watch out for their own safety, what with Davlatov having joined Heng Dong Chu
on the long-term injured list. Davlatov's replacement Prokop Mottl
remained bent on giving a good account for himself, and it was probably not for no reason that the Czech backup had been picked to come on before his rather more illustrious teammates. He barely stopped running throughout, and few could begrudge him from having a go from the right side of the box on the hour, but the execution frankly left much to be desired.
Grilled's share of possession meant that they continued being relevant despite dialing back their aggression, and Muthyala nearly made a second for himself as the team made it a point to overload Chow Puay Hui. Gert-Jan van Boshuizen saved handily, though. The Birds would finally introduce Moey and Mudaliar with twenty minutes to go, and this fed straight into a classic centre-forward's header courtesy of Chan Ze Han
, who brooked no opposition hanging in the air to meet yet another Künzler delivery.
The Birds were coasting toward a relaxed ending, but there would be one final twist in the tale. Having been largely unchallenged throughout the second half, Grilled were out of their element when the Jokers committed everything they had, on what was probably their last spell of possession in added time. It worked, too. Wu Seng An gained a small measure of his own back, as the ball fell to him on that last-ditch rush, and the match thus concluded with Gert-Jan van Boshuizen yelling his defiance in the centre circle.