Hounds Called Off
Chan Dispels Nightmare
The Doghouse, a compact 49000-seater located on the fringes of Orchard, held some pretty negative memories for Grilled Birds after their 0-6 collapse there against Singapore Big Dogs, towards the end of their II.4 campaign just two seasons ago. Given the 6-2 beating that Big Dogs had inflicted the year before that, it also held a 100% record against the Birds in league competition, which made the trip here foreboding to many fans. Grilled would finally ward off the curse, as it happened, even if they had to leave it very late to secure victory.
The pundits and commentators would never quite get tired about reminding all who would listen of the Big Dogs' thrashing of the defending S-League champions in their last meeting, and to spice the encounter up further, most of those that had participated in that match from the hosts' side, would be involved again. Club loyalist Alistair Xiao had since retired, and Swiss defender Dietrich Venzin gone to Spain's TOWERS TEAM, but their direct positional replacements Deng Yew Leong and Sorin Ciugudean were in no manner inferior. Hudson Matsumoto would return to the starting lineup after his brace in that 6-2 win, alongside fellow up-and-coming striker Edward Lock - still only 22 years of age.
Grilled for their part risked neither Kalki nor Künzler, with their strikeforce composed of Moey, Chan and Egan, with Kalle ter Berg
and Salah Kamel
flanking Bilal Mohammad Harun
in a balanced and hardworking engine room. Heng Dong Chu
would not be selected either as Eren Serpin
went for a tight formation, and Muthyala and Chu would be roped in as wide midfielders.
For all the breathless build-up, there was precious little to write home about for the first half-hour or so, with Grilled understandably not eager to reprise their previous embarrassment on this ground. The commentators, having long exhausted their stock of historical anecdotes relating to the club, were eventually reduced to pulling up increasingly-obscure statistics about the players. Singapore Big Dogs did hold their own possession-wise all along, though they weren't exactly killing it on their attacks just yet.
It then all exploded, as Gilbert Webb
was caught off-balance by Edward Lock after the latter had trapped the ball, and the Big Dogs forward would elbow Webb aside to go on and score, to the jubilation of the home support. That was but a beginning, however, as the Birds went for the jugular straight from the restart, with former youth international Mahesh Murthy flattening Neeraj Muthyala
as he threatened to get past. The free-kick was squared to Salah Kamel
, who threaded the eye of the needle for Chan Ze Han
There was no taking one's eyes off the action at this stage, as Chan's equalizer was followed by a penalty given by referee Fernando Gallardo, after he spotted Moey Xin Seng
being restrained by Big Dogs player-coach Tomas Svensson in the box. The drama only rose as Bhavya Panigrahi
skied the spot kick hopefully, and a quick goal-kick from Wicaksana Mabenda would see Murthy edging a race down the left, though Chu Xin Lee
would stay close enough to force a suboptimal shot.
There would be but a short four-minute lull before Chan Ze Han
scored again, off a dinky backheel from Bilal Mohammad Harun
; true to his instincts, Chan would swipe at the ball the instant he got close enough, which left Mabenda with no time to set himself. Singapore Big Dogs were creating plenty on their end too, and Nathan Wammes would unexpectedly break forward in the 41st minute, brushing two Grilled players aside before crashing a blistering strike just over Massoud Dob
It was pointless for the spectators to stay seated as the action built to a crescendo as the end of the half neared, with Bernie Egan
mugging the hosts for a third goal, as he adjusted himself for a deflection coming off Deng Yew Leong before anyone else. This lead wouldn't last the minute, however, as a Salah Kamel
foul and booking would be followed by Mahesh Murthy rising majestically for a spectacular volley across Dob, to tie it up three-all.
Clearly, the teams wouldn't be able to maintain that level of tempo for long, and the proceedings would simmer down somewhat after the players returned for the second half. The fans had cooled down to a far lesser degree, in comparison, but not even their fervent chanting could bring the temperature back to where it was. Bernie Egan
would make a move in the 57th minute that ended with Wicaksana Mabenda making the save, but the Irishman looked marginally offside in any case.
A draw was looking a real possibility as the teams' creativity appeared to have petered out, and Grilled were looking increasingly tired with their half-hearted pushes... up until Chu Xin Lee
shook the game awake. Receiving the ball in the centre circle in the 78th minute, the midfielder would advance it himself as no attractive outlet presented itself, until he was nearly at the edge of the penalty area. Moey Xin Seng
's dummy run then stole the attention of the defence just long enough for Chu to sprint inside, and his chip would catch a lucky slight deflection, to take it past Mabenda.
That left the Big Dogs with about twelve minutes to claw a result back, and their initial efforts would only bring them another conceded goal, this as Bernie Egan
reversed a too-hasty attempted pass out from the back. They would make respectable late attempts, with Deng Yew Leong forcing Massoud Dob
into a block, and Gilbert Webb
having to scramble Edward Lock's follow-up off the line, but not enough to turn the match around.