3 - 1 Grilled Birds
The Birds couldn't have it all their way, as they fell 1-3 to an inspired Haha selection, who achieved the rare feat of beating this Grilled team at their own game - thereby also going top of the table. While Haha had adopted a counterattacking posture against Bot Team FC last Sunday, they reverted to a proactive posture on their own ground, as they had the previous season. However, while they fell 0-3 trying a 4-4-2 then, their extra man in midfield made all the difference today.
In addition to that, Chan Ze Han
would be the target of Haha skipper Nasrul Haq Khairil Syahmi, as Grilled went back to their usual midfield-packing stance here. Newly-appointed Kuwaiti head coach Salah Abd El Razzak deployed both fresh signings that he inherited - Grégory Rocha in midfield, and Sorin-Dan Corbean at left wing - while Eren Serpin
appeared to have instructed Bernie Egan
to probe the space outside Aw Tian Jin. This was a very reasonable gameplan, it had to be said.
Sadly for Grilled, it didn't go well for them on this heavy pitch, what more with the hosts being clearly the more motivated in front of their own fans. Nasrul's effective shackling of Chan greatly limited the Birds' options, and with no hints that Chan would manage to escape for a long while, Grilled were mostly out of countermeasures. Worse, Haha were starting to hang on to the ball, and the Birds have never been quite as fearsome chasing it as holding it.
It wasn't that there were all that many open chances, but Haha were pressing their case the more convincingly, with S$18.4 million man Sorin-Dan Corbean having Chu Xin Lee
on the backfoot, more often than not. A drawn-out standoff at the corner flag would end with Chu conceding the corner in the 19th minute, and Nasrul's take would be helped on by Aw Tian Jin, to the waiting Basilio Rampazzi! for 1-0.
might have to shoulder part of the blame for his positioning on that, but there was no time to mope, as Haha's attacks only increased in their intensity. Grilled's defence was looking extremely uncomfortable as Haha somehow managed to pull some splendid short passing off under these wet conditions, and it was all over once Mateja Jeftić
lost his footing against Corbean in the 22nd minute. Dob made to come out, but the Romanian winger had driven it at his far post by then.
Corbean's involvement was far from done, and his next act would be to remove Kalle ter Berg
from the equation, with a meaty challenge that left the influential Dutchman clutching his left knee. That broke Grilled's momentary revival, that saw Bernie Egan
step past Aw for perhaps the first time in this game, to test national U-20 goalkeeper Vishvesharaiyah Gudivada, who made a brilliant off-handed save.
It would only get worse for Grilled, as Neeraj Muthyala
proved no more able than Ter Berg in abolishing Haha's grip on the match. Despite Basilio Rampazzi retreating somewhat after their second goal, he remained a very real and potent threat whenever he entered the Birds' penalty area, such as when Simon Ruessel put in a cross over Kalki Parvathaneni
's impingement in the 30th minute. Bhavya Panigrahi
tried to contest the Italian striker's header, but Rampazzi had long secured the necessary advantage.
This was bringing back painful memories of the 6-0 thrashing by Singapore Big Dogs two seasons before, the last time the Birds had gone three down without reply in a competitive match. Moey Xin Seng
would at least make sure that a wipeout wouldn't happen again, as he capitalized upon a shrewd interchange between Egan and Chu from the right, to nick one past Gudivada. However, from the grim expression he retained while racing to get the ball out for the restart, the Grilled captain understood that they remained in big trouble.
As a matter of fact, Grilled would have to rely on Dob to make a save he had no right to against Sorin-Dan Corbean barely four minutes later, and there remained next to no evidence that they had what it took, to outscore their opponents. It was definitely a strange sight watching the Birds playing off the ball, and while Salah Kamel
fought well in midfield, Haha nonetheless tipped possession by a clear margin.
Grilled did start strongly for the second half, as Chu Xin Lee
found Corbean slightly neglectful of his defensive duties, and his uninterrupted forty-yard dribble would conclude with an excellent pass to Chan Ze Han
. Unfortunately for Chan, Nasrul was well-rested too, and despite a wonderful first touch, he couldn't buy enough time to get clear before reinforcements arrived.
That bright patch wouldn't translate into the longer term, however, as Haha soon regained their mastery, and Dob had to stretch to prevent Mariusz Grott's opportunistic 55th minute effort from sailing past him. Gilbert Webb
's entry for Mateja Jeftić
did make the game livier for a bit, with Chu getting carded and Bernie Egan
then hammering a respectable attempt towards Gudivada's goalmouth, but there would be no further changes to the scoreline as the home fans celebrated.