Grilled Birds 2 - 2 Haha
's impeccable form from the World Battle tournament would carry over, and while his late equalizer against Haha was not exactly crucial as regards the Birds' title dreams, it did provide the team a nice morale boost going into the all-important decider. Haha, Grilled's conquerors in the Cup final, appeared poised to again frustrate through counterattacking, and emerged with a point for their pains.
Grilled's mission, or so Eren Serpin
had the press know, was exceedingly straightforward - win today, to put themselves within touching distance next weekend. This was however easier said then done against Haha, whose head coach Salah Abd El Razzak was happy enough to reprise the 5-3-2 that had earned them their first major cup, earlier this season. Additionally, they would have the raw firepower of mid-season signings Félix Valdayo and Simon Mazlov to capitalize on any mistakes, an arrangement that has made many an opponent think again about losing themselves on the offense.
To this, the Birds would stick with a front three helmed by Chan Ze Han
, and supported by Mudaliar and Kalki - and that had Cyril Künzler
making his first league start of the campaign on the left. With Wu Jinglong
on the other flank, Serpin was clearly signalling that he was looking to harry the visitors all across the pitch; Moey Xin Seng
and Kalle ter Berg
would have to be disappointed, as there was no room left for them in this arrangement.
Haha were willing enough to play ball, and the first ten minutes saw wave after interrupted wave of Grilled attacks. Chan led by example, shooting hard on the first reasonable opportunity he found himself with in the fourth minute, though it went past the post with Carlos Andino having it covered. Ng Yun Shi would race from behind to stop Chan's next advance in its track, but the Birds were vibing now, and Bilal Mohammad Harun
nodded Wu's eleventh minute cross in from up close.
That was a very welcome lead indeed for the fans, and Chu Xin Lee
took over from there, peppering Andino's goals with good attempts in an inspired flurry from midfield. Unfortunately, the last of those would be returned long to Valdayo, who soon won a free-kick from Panigrahi from stubbornly shielding the ball on the edge of the box. Massoud Dob
certainly wasn't expecting Nasrul Haq Khairil Syahmi to press the loose ball to the grass and knock it to the open half of his net from that - but he did.
Referee Astolfo Lotti saw nothing wrong with Nasrul's arrangement, and this had to have brought back traumatic flashbacks to the cup final, for some of the Grilled players. The match restarted, but some of the spring in their step would be lost. The rest of the half saw no shots on target from either side, with Chan having audibly exhorted his teammates not to overextend themselves.
It remained tied too at Fossil Park, so Grilled hadn't lost any ground in that respect, but the players had to be only too uncomfortably aware that a single goal from Fringeheads might well secure the title for them. Given this, Chan and company would strive to force their way through Haha's backline, but their only-too-obvious efforts would be denied without ceremony. Instead, it was Valdayo within inches of turning it around, as he broke down the left in the 53rd minute.
Then, some good news would filter in from Ang Mo Kio - Club Dinosauria had taken the lead through Ivo Mana! Fringeheads would put Finn Karlsson on in response, but the going-ons over there would soon overshadow the comparatively-bland fare at The Cooking Pot. Sixty-six minutes in, Faust Salvans had Deinos 2-0 up from a headed cross, and the Spanish striker would follow it up with a stiff grounder for three, some six additional minutes later.
One could forgive some of the Grilled lads for being caught up in those reports, only to be caught napping by a calculated Haha counter in the 75th minute. Salah Kamel
sought to stop it early in midfield, but Nasrul would again rush to hit it without delay, and sent it to a Mazlov who was advancing furiously down the right. Künzler, recognizing the threat, made to prevent the cross - but unsuccessfully as Chua Ze Xin met it with a sweet volley to rip it past Dob.
The Grilled fans were silenced by Haha taking the lead, but not for very long at all, as Vikram Mudaliar
revved into action. It wasn't hard to guess that Haha would seek to defend with all hands on deck under these circumstances, and Mudaliar was adamant that they not be allowed to. He knew only one direction as he made his way forward from kick-off, an idea that Wu Jinglong
was also entirely enamoured of. The Chinese winger took over for a few seconds as Mudaliar darted inside, and their combined pace and control allowed this most obvious of attacks to come off, as the Number Nine scrambled the equalizer home.
An attempted repeat would be smothered by Ng Yun Shi, and in any case, the developments at Fossil Park had removed some urgency, since Grilled would remain within two points even were they to lose today. Of course, a win would still give the Birds an advantage going into the finale, as Serpin recognized with a double substitution for the last ten minutes: Moey Xin Seng
and Heng Dong Chu
would enter for Kalki Parvathaneni
and Wu Jinglong
Both were full of running, but Haha stuck to their defensive guns, and there would be no guaranteed way to get past them in such a mood. Mudaliar nearly managed it in injury time, but Carlos Andino would deny him hero status with a wonderful reflex block.