0 - 3 Grilled Birds
Dismantled At Last
Haha appeared poised to scupper Grilled Birds' championship dreams further, but Grilled would turn it all around in the final sixteen minutes, to stay atop the table entering the last two weekends. The rainstorm over Woodlands, and at Hehe Arena, was hardly conducive to anything approaching football, and not only that, it was only the Birds who even really tried for the initiative today. Haha converted from their pure press against Fringeheads last week to an asymmetric 4-4-2, but the effect remained essentially unchanged, as they mostly hung back in their own territory.
This meant that Basilio Rampazzi and Ursin de Rougemont returned as forwards, and few present could had been unaware at how the latter had taken two precious points off Grilled, in the reverse fixture. They would however spend almost all their time as Haha's first line of defence around midfield today, which had to be a distinctly new experience. They wouldn't even be able to draw on video coaching to be prepared, given how Eren Serpin
had arranged for a virtually never seen before midfield configuration for the Birds: Chu Xin Lee
, Kalle ter Berg
and Salah Kamel
centrally, with Bilal Mohammad Harun
and Neeraj Muthyala
- generally not acknowledged as having much of a record out wide - on the periphery.
Odd as this might appear to the fans, the Birds' midfield did more or less work, even if not particularly well on paper, a nice change from stereotypical expectations. Still, Haha were near-impeccable in defence despite ceding possession, and were likely trying to take a leaf out of Fringeheads' book in handling Grilled here. The weather remained on their side, with no signs of the rain letting up.
Grilled's attacks, then, were many but mostly pedestrian, with the waterlogged ground heavily discouraging their favoured crisp short passing. Fortunately, the men in green were not adaptable if nothing, and quickly settled into something approaching a formless positional state, after ascertaining that their opponents weren't about to be able to pull a fast one. It was under these circumstances that Bilal Mohammad Harun
fired the first volley at goal in the 19th minute, which needed Carlos Andino to keep his eyes locked on the ball to stop.
Notably, while the rain discouraged much passing and dribbling, it clearly also made shots trickier to handle for the goalkeepers, and the Birds needed no encouragement to capitalize on this; they would be far more willing to test Andino from distances and angles they might otherwise not have, as when Mateja Jeftić
slyly bent an attempt around Aw Tian Jin in the 33rd; it was headed for the bottom corner too, only for Andino to fly across his goalmouth at the last instant.
There would be no changes to either the environmental conditions, or to the clubs' routine, after the break, with Haha gaffer Yalçın Akeda appearing strangely at peace with his team's passivity. The opportunities continued to come from unlikely fellows what with Grilled's strikers being constantly shadowed, and Gilbert Webb
was first to get a shot on target in the second half, as he opted for a stooping header when presented with a cross at awkward height three minutes in. The technique was as good as it got, but there was no getting enough power behind that to fluster Andino.
Bilal, despite being shunted to the left, had been Grilled's most effectual player of this game, maybe partly due to Markku Salminen having additional ground to cover in Haha's formation. Be it as it may, Bilal wasted very little when given the opening, as in the 61st minute after deftly escaping Nasrul Haq Khairil Syahmi with a creative first touch in a packed area. He nicely sought Kalle ter Berg
out on the other side of the penalty area, but while the Dutchman knew what he was going for with his rising curler, the accuracy just wasn't there.
Haha, despite having not as much entered Grilled's own penalty area for the half at least were still level on goals, it had to be recognized; if a smash-and-grab was what Akeda was counting on, it could have been far worse. About twenty minutes from the end, they would make their big move, with Salminen taking the offensive against Bilal for once. The Birds could hardly be blamed for not expecting that, after having been lulled for so long, and could only place their faith in the returning Massoud Dob
. In the end, Basilio Rampazzi would cut it too close with his lob.
Still, a draw would have been as bad as a loss for the Birds here, and there was little indication of where their breakthrough could come from, with the rain intensifying if anything. The answer finally arrived in the form of Chan Ze Han
, who appeared to read fellow former youth international Ng Yun Shi's mind, as he placed himself exactly where Ng's clearance was, 74 minutes in. The first-time volley gave Andino no time to reset himself, and Grilled were in front!
This had to be a bitter pill for the home fans - which for the day certainly included the Fringeheads faithful - to take, but it would now all be up to Haha to rescue themselves. In theory, however, for Grilled were far, far more attuned to attacking by this point. Chan himself could have added another within the next few minutes, and only Andino's excellent reflexes had him manage the block.
The Argentine custodian had done about all he could, though, and not even his considerable skills could keep the ever more threatening Birds out any further. With ten minutes to go, Moey Xin Seng
would settle for a corner after getting hemmed in by the flag, and Mateja Jeftić
drove it flat into the six-yard box. Bilal would get his just rewards at last, as he reached it a fraction before Andino and Gerry Clijsen, and glanced it downwards and into the net.
2-0 had to be enough, many would have thought, with with goal difference looking increasingly likely to determine the destination of the S-League title, Grilled weren't about to pass up on possible goals now. They continued plugging away, and found a third through Neeraj Muthyala
, whose powerful right-footed drive in the 86th minute became his first goal since FC Barca Singapore at the beginning of the month.