Grilled Birds 2 - 2 Haha
Grilled Birds hit their first roadbump in their S-League quest, as they were held to a two-all draw by Haha, at The Cooking Pot. They might have missed Chan Ze Han
more than most, and the match would cast some doubts on Eren Serpin
's tactical maturity by its conclusion, with the near ninety thousand supporters left justly wondering whether their new gaffer could have done more to secure full points.
It would be remiss to discount Haha's own capabilities overly, for they had won both the preceding league rounds, something none other than the Birds themselves had managed; both, as it happened, were narrow 3-2 victories, scraped through late, late winners. Some have attributed this to Yalçın Akeda's acumen, and Haha's Turkish head coach would do nothing to diminish that reputation today, as he had his starting XI square up in a 5-4-1. Granted, this wasn't anything that Grilled hadn't seen at The Cooking Pot, and so the question had to be whether it would work.
Akeda would have more in store for Bernie Egan
, given how the Irish forward had been utterly devastating when left free these past weeks, and local enforcer Aw Tian Jin was assigned as his personal and exclusive shadow. All this left Haha completely undermanned in midfield, but they appeared more than content to send long passes the way of a lone Basilio Rampazzi, at least to begin with.
Haha wouldn't take long to send the message that they weren't playing around, as Rampazzi left a deep impression - visibly on Gilbert Webb
's knee via his studs, and perhaps in his psyche - with a raking sweep in the third minute. A worked-up Bhavya Panigrahi
would confront Jordanian referee Cemal Saqer on behalf of his teammate, but Saqer saw it as within the bounds of normal behaviour.
That set the tone for the rest of the match, as Haha made every yard gained in their final third, a chore in itself. They had no compunctions about settling very, very deep at all, nor of quite often leaving it Markku Salminen's sole responsibility to try and advance up the left side and link up with Rampazzi. Having eight intelligent players dedicated to defence had its upsides, but Kalki Parvathaneni
somehow managed to leave them all behind in the 17th minute. Mudaliar's inventive heel flick went just a teeny bit too far, sadly, and Kalki wouldn't manage a proper touch, before he got cut off by Andino.
The visitors' scheme would then pay off magnificently, as they embarked upon a mad breakaway down their right flank after Vikram Mudaliar
lost it mid-dribble, with Cory Trang having lulled Chu Xin Lee
into a false sense of complacency. Trang had several men following his lead, chief amongst them Dutch midfielder Gerry Clijsen, who is celebrating his 29th birthday. Rampazzi would pull Webb away, leaving Panigrahi outnumbered, and Clijsen would read Trang's intentions perfectly in surging forward for the simple conversion.
If Grilled were shaken by that, they didn't show it, and they would turn the match back their way within three minutes. First up was Webb himself, who hadn't been looking his best, since his early bump. That didn't deter him from displaying a masterclass in footwork worthy of the strikers, though, when he found himself in an advanced position as the Birds rotated through their positions on an extended siege. Webb demonstrated good awareness to dodge Miguel Parguiña's overeager tackle, and then outsped former national U-20 player Ng Yun Shi whilst holding Chua Ze Xin off on his other side, to equalize in fine style.
Mudaliar was next up to put his earlier travails behind him, as he caught Andino marginally out, with a picture-perfect chip on his next possession. That had Grilled in the lead, and the pressure was now on Haha to go on the offensive. It wouldn't be as easy now that the Birds had the luxury of delaying play at their pleasure, however, and other than a Nasrul Haq Khairil Syahm free-kick that brushed the goalframe, Haha was not exactly equipped to take the game to the hosts.
Still, patience was one of the Woodlands club's virtues, and they admirably held themselves in a state of balance, as they continued to try and bait Grilled into an overcommitment, though and beyond half-time. This placed much of the workload on Clijsen and Salminen, who had to continually zoom up and down the pitch, for Haha's tack to attain some credibility. That they did so was a testament to their fitness, but it wasn't quite enough to really trouble Grilled.
Yalçın Akeda had cards to play, though, and he went for broke with half an hour to go, throwing Swiss artisan Ursin de Rougemont on for a bedraggled Aw. Of course, this in theory left Bernie Egan
now freed, but the Irishman wasn't in much better shape himself, having been drained by Aw's man-marking throughout. This substitution happened to be a stroke of genius, as Ursin duly levelled ten minutes after coming on, as he totally outfoxed Bilal Mohammad Harun
after receiving the ball on the edge of Grilled's penalty area.
There was no time to think as Grilled set out to restore their lead pronto, only for their haste to backfire, as Basilio Rampazzi nearly stole the game following Salah Kamel
's rushed miss. That was enough for Akeda, who had Roger Viroux come on for Chua Ze Xin, in a clear indication that they were okay with confirming a point. Serpin would in contrast look entirely indecisive as he paced the sidelines, and by the time he introduced José Luiz Velho
for Kalki Parvathaneni
, any real chance of turning the match around had long passed.