Reprisal At Batok
Bad Memories Erased
Grilled Birds' 0-5 home defeat in this matchup early in the season had been a dagger to the heart of their league confidence, and a not-insignificant number of their fans had made it their personal mission to watch the Birds' response at Ground Zero. For whatever reason, Earthquakes gaffer Jochim Legrün would meet Grilled on equal terms in a 2-5-3, a formation that placed a huge amount of responsibility on Kirk Johnson to manage midfield. This turned out a bridge too far for him.
It wasn't that the Earthquakes were blown away or anything like that, though they did have to survive an early rollicking by the bloodthirsty Birds. Grilled emerged superior in the battle for possession rather handily, and they achieved their first attempt on target after just four minutes, with Moey Xin Seng
tilting to drop a lob back off the bar. Defender Lim Cheng Hui tried to scramble it off to the side as Bernie Egan
loomed, but the ball would be sent back in a jiffy, leaving Valentin Mrejeru to have to make a big save off Kalki Parvathaneni
This early warning clarion was heeded, and Batok Earthquakes would morph into what was effectively a slightly-advanced five-man backline, with their midfield starting to sit extra deep. It happened to probably be closer to their natural inclinations anyway, and they were able to wrest some control back. Still, Chan Ze Han
would light the match up in the 16th minute with breathtaking solo hijinks that saw him bypass three men en route to the six-yard box, only to poke it into Mrejeru's relieved clutches. Chan was visibly upset at that.
The game went on with Earthquakes threatening the occasional counter, but the initiative clearly stayed with the Birds. There would be no respite for Mrejeru as he had to be on his toes, to deny Egan's thunderbolt in the 24th. The resulting corner was half-cleared as Neeraj Muthyala
challenged Ong Rong Jing at the back post, which gave Moey the leverage he required to break the deadlock.
To be fair, Batok Earthquakes took this setback well in their stride, and their second half-hour was undeniably much better than the first; they defended deep with an increasing amount of success, and there would be the odd change-of-pace breakout, mostly through Yohann Delaunay up top and right. The Birds were wanting for chances, and it took until the 63rd minute for them to get another shot on, with Chan Ze Han
rocking the crossbar. Considering this, Hovaness Noubaryan
surveyed his bench, and motioned to unleash Vikram Mudaliar
Moey had barely come off, however, when the hosts made their move. There hadn't been too much action coming from the Earthquakes' left, what with Gilbert Webb
having generally gotten the better of Sörren Gassenmeyer on that flank, but this would no longer hold. An uncharacteristically extended streak of possession by Batok Earthquakes cumulated in the equally unlikely sight of Zhan Tze Choon tearing it down with Webb occupied, and the young defender found only the sixth goal of his career, popping it low past Massoud Dob
For a moment there, the Grilled support were staring into the abyss, as their team seemed to have gifted Earthquake an immediate follow-up, from horrific defending off a corner; somehow, Wee Chuan Han passed an open goal up, disregarding Cándido Cardozo serving it up on a plate. There was no time to think as Dob hacked the blocked effort upfield, and it was instead Grilled who went ahead as Kalki Parvathaneni
made a beeline for goal.
The enormity of what had just happened had barely sunk in for Wee, when Grilled put the game to bed. Capitalizing on their opponents' fugue, the Birds pressed as hard as they were able, and Mudaliar won a free-kick near the edge of the penalty area with a determined run. Cyril Künzler
had gone direct much of the time from this position, but he would dig it hard and square instead, leaving Chan Ze Han
to find the net despite Kirk Johnson's attentions.
There could have been another as Grilled continued pounding down the door, but Bernie Egan
scooped it marginally wide. The short break that followed as Earthquakes skipper Egil Borch had his foot looked at was enough for them to regain some semblance of organization, but it was fair to say that their day was done.