Former cupwinners Robbie Football Club gave Grilled Birds a stiff trial in the fourteenth competitive meeting between the clubs, which turned out as it had tended to - in victory for the Birds, their sixth straight for this fixture. However, this had seldom come easy against the fellow Jurong old-timers, and this was true also today as they took Grilled to extra time.
It was a bristling-with-confidence Grilled side that had taken to the field at Big Nest Arena Singapore, almost immediately since returning from Bangladesh with a Hattrick Masters win under their belt, but one sensed that they were physically somewhat spent. Against them was a Robbie Football Club entirely changed from the one that had last faced them in II.2 five seasons back; Ritchie Park, unused substitute then, was the lone holdover, but he would again remain on the bench today.
While Finnish winger Antti Ravi had just taken the reins at the beginning of the season, his chosen approach of a 5-5-0 would not differ from that of five seasons past, with RFC having maintained a consistent distance shooting philosophy. It was hard to ascertain whether they had progressed much in the intervening years, with it often been said that they had not managed to replace a prime Martin Holm. If so, they have come very close with Swedish midfielder Tomas Askenstedt, and the reputation of newly-signed S$22 million Spanish custodian Eduard Adrobau precedes himself.
That last would shortly be put to the test, as the Birds weren't shy about having a pop or two, especially for Wu Jinglong
from the right; Adrobau wasn't about to be beaten by those run-of-the-mill attempts, no doubt, and it would be Robbie Football Club who would really raise heartbeats. 22 minutes in, Marek Ronkiewicz made a casual-looking strike that ended up clipping the outside of the goalpost, and the Polish winger seemed clear through in the 30th minute after Petur Follend beat all comers on the other flank, only to skew the great opportunity wide.
wasn't about to mope as he restarted the match as swiftly as possible, and his big goal kick would be won in the air by Kalle ter Berg
- with it dropping nicely to Kalki Parvathaneni
for a rare two-on-two. Matteo Chiriacò would be concerned enough by Kalki's mazy dribbling to take his eye off the ball for an instant, and that was long enough for a cheeky flick of the heel across for Vikram Mudaliar
There was still very much to be done for the Birds, and Salah Kamel
would almost immediately be booked for a preventive tackle on Tomas Askenstedt. In any case, there was no real stopping RFC from taking their shots, as was the case in the 37th minute when Chiriacò crossed the halfway line with the ball, and dropped it off to Austrian midfielder Benjamin Ivanovic. Dob was by all accounts watching out for it, but Ivanovic's twenty-five yarder remained too sweetly struck to deny.
That brought a flurry of activity from the Birds, with Moey seeking to cancel the equalizer as soon as possible, and he came extremely close too with an ambitious lob that was ever so marginally overhit. The build-up had RFC skipper Alexandro Nicoletti downed and clutching his wrist, which required Alex Jarmerstedt to replace him. Adrobau had barely gotten the armband on, when he was called upon to redirect a Mudaliar piledriver around the post.
Despite Grilled's breathless knocking on the door, it was RFC who instead took the lead before the break; Massoud Dob
allowed a routine-seeming attempt by Pier Giuseppe Licciardello to slip through his grasp, as they pressed upfield from the cleared corner kick. Kalki Parvathaneni
would try to match this as Chan Ze Han
took advantage of Jarmerstedt's less-than-warmed-up state on the left, but Adrobau looked every penny worth of his monster transfer fee, as he denied Kalki's strike with his leg.
RFC were only the more determined to shut the match down in the second half if anything, as they had every right to. Certainly, with the likes of Eduard Adrobau keeping goal, simply surviving another forty-five minutes must have seemed a sensible option, as they more than willingly conceded possession outside their own final third. Moey might have slipped through in the 50th, but what looked like possibly Grilled's top opportunity for the match would be spurned, as Adrobau claimed the ball in a flash.
Robbie Football Club might well have stopped the Birds' cup defense, the way it was going, but as so often happens, one Chan Ze Han
wasn't about to allow it to end this way. Having started on the left, a mutual understanding with Kalki had him shift more and more centrally, and it was in this position that he was able to stymie Bonifacy Fiks in the 65th minute. Fiks made to recover immediately, but Chan had already released a snap-shot, that would creep in at the far post.
Chan would be replaced by Heng Dong Chu
with ten minutes to go, as Serpin made to close the match out, but not even Heng's completely-fresh legs would be able to break RFC's stubborn back five in a jiffy. The winning goal would have to wait for Moey Xin Seng
to penetrate on the right side in the 96th minute, and aggressive challenges from the opponents - leading to yellow cards for Alex Jarmerstedt and Tomas Askenstedt - could do nothing to turn it around.