Seventh D2 Title
Dunn Into Four
The Birds collected only the seventh Division Two crown of their long history, and their first from II.4, having previously claimed three each from II.1 and II.2 respectively. Strictly speaking, they had only to avoid a heavy defeat against Joker 9 to guarantee it, but there was no way this could be the preferred outcome at The Cooking Pot, and certainly not with over ninety thousand expectant fans packing the stadium.
Grilled had no injury concerns other than Salah Kamel
and Bilal Mohammad Harun
entering this game, and that it was club captain Moey Xin Seng
who had to start on the bench, spoke volumes about the fierceness of the competition. Chu Xin Lee
, after having been passed over for much of the past two months, got the nod ahead of Moey likely due to his good friendly showings. Heng Dong Chu
also kept his place on the left, with the Birds intent on taking the fight to their visitors.
Joker 9 might have lost 3-7 in the season opener, but they hadn't been reserved then, and they certainly weren't about to be today. Jae-Jun Kim might have controversially replaced his entire frontline from that day - including prospective Golden Boot winner Desmond Anderson, sold to Hungary's Konsti FC for over S$15 million last week - but it wasn't as if they had any lack of hungry replacements. Of these, 19 year-old Tong Hock Kok has been viewed as the most developed, and has already made a name for himself as a legit threat in the air.
It was another of their youngsters who would shake The Pot up, however, as the Jokers countered fearlessly into the heart of Grilled's defence in the ninth minute. Neither Webb nor Panigrahi seemed at all comfortable as the Jokers' strikers buzzed about them with all the bluster and vitality of youth, and the latter couldn't maneuver into the path of Robert Dunn's effort in time. Massoud Dob
was well-beaten too, which totally silenced the Birds support for some seconds there.
Chan Ze Han
was first to try and get his own back, as he took on and cleanly outdid Hatem Saâda in the eleventh minute with some impeccable ball work, only to poke his finish wide of the far post, with Gert-Jan van Boshuizen stranded. The equalizer would have to wait until the 28th, when the Birds dragged Joker 9's defence out of the way on a practised free-kick routine, to allow Vikram Mudaliar
an easy sitter; this would be Mudaliar's 12th of the league, leaving him needing just one more to sit level with the departed Anderson.
Adding to the tally would hit plenty of snags from both sides for awhile there, as van Boshuizen then saved wonderfully from Chu Xin Lee
's curler from nowhere. It was then the Jokers who threatened Massoud Dob
with a pair of fine efforts from Tobias Wurzinger and Tong Hock Kok, that last of which fed into a move up the middle by Grilled, and Cyril Künzler
's ambitious drive.
The scales finally tilted unambigiously towards Grilled Birds as the half drew to a close, which was sparked by Bernie Egan
's initiative to start a run from deep, in the 39th minute. van Boshuizen just about barely dealt with the Irishman at full steam, but Chow Puay Hui hadn't counted on Künzler sneaking up on him, and the ball would be played straight back square to Egan for 2-1.
That became three in the very next minute, as the visitors' relative inexperience worked against them. They committed far too much on a questionable push forward, and were left woefully shorthanded, as Heng Dong Chu
reversed on them down his flank. Heng would be spoilt for choice as to available targets in the box, and Bhavya Panigrahi
rose to the occasion, with Neeraj Muthyala
providing some very helpful interference on the defence.
The second half started comparatively slowly, but the match would effectively be over as a contest, once Heng went on another of his surges and fed Gilbert Webb
for a fourth goal, in the 63rd minute. Cyril Künzler
, still vaguely in contention for a second top scorer's award, would be liberal with his goal attempts, but none came off better than his wayward 65th minute wallop, which was itself... not very good.
The crowd were already deep in a celebratory mood as Yuta Nakakita
come on to Chan Ze Han
's own spin of whe wheel with ten minutes to go, and Moey would be allowed a ceremonial entrance right before full-time, with the league trophy already prepped with the club's colours on the touchline.