Huge Step Forward
The difference between this Grilled Birds team and their previous editions in the S-League, has probably been their ability to pull out critical wins without clearly outmatching their opponents, and thus was it today against Club Dinosauria. Deinos at Fossil Park evinced a steel in midfield that belied their humble position in the league table, and Grilled's tight 4-3 victory would come with the hosts actually edging possession in both halves.
The Birds did have the historical advantage in this fixture, having won all three previous meetings against the Ang Mo Kio luminaries in the past two seasons. It had, to be frank, a disappointing season for Club Dinosauria, as they lost their first four league games, leading into six of the first seven, and made up most of their points against whipping boys Tecos Foreign Legion. A 0-3 Sapphire Challenge Cup defeat to the soon-to-be-disbanded Woodlands Society was next to come, and the brightest spark of their campaign was far and away their upset of Sarcastic Fringeheads at home.
Deinos' fans were not about to forget that in a jiffy, and were singing about it as the teams filed out today. Conditions were hardly ideal after an overnight rainstorm, but Chew Long Hock and company looked undeniably sharp as they warmed up. Approach-wise, Heng Ah Wei would stick to the 2-5-3 that had crashed at The Cooking Pot, the only exception being the exchange of Fabián Usel in for Randolph Chiu on the left wing. According to Heng, he remained confident that it would work out if his side managed to keep more of the ball.
Grilled would also innovate on their left, with Heng Dong Chu
keeping his place after an adequate showing at UDNTK FC last week, but it would be Kalki Parvathaneni
providing the motive force early on. Equally adept whether on the left or right, Kalki would tease Usel with his flowing footwork, before bending it around the Spaniard into the box for Vikram Mudaliar
, who sprung past Che Zambil Ridwan in unison. Mudaliar nearly got there first too, only to have Florea Răducu cut in with a stretched-out arm.
It was a good sign for the Birds regardless, though their next attack would end in tears. Heng Dong Chu
made headway down the left by slogging alongside Fokko Schlattmeier, but it was perhaps inevitable that his final cross would be too obvious. Chew Long Hock, who had been covering for it, would intercept neatly, and play would soon pivot over to Cheah Eng Dong. The Birds were undermanned as they faced Deinos' counter, and it eventually got through for Lech Tarkowski to make it one-nil.
This was just what the home support wanted to see, and there were continued roars of approval as their team kept on the offense, if just a tad subdued when it involved their former youth star, Bilal Mohammad Harun
. That bit of forebearance would soon be discarded when Bilal dispossessed Abd El Rahman Abd El Khalek in the 21st minute, though, and dealt it on to Heng Dong Chu
coasting in from the left. With options aplenty, Heng chose the most direct route in Vikram Mudaliar
, who went for it early this time in clipping it over Răducu.
The match and play were level once more, but the hosts arguably remained in control, as they managed to consistently bring Tarkowski into play. Che Zambil Ridwan's calf pull in the 27th minute would swing the pace Grilled's way, however, as Kishore Shenoy wouldn't be able to fit in on demand, leaving Chu Xin Lee
to give Grilled the lead on a contested free-kick. Deinos would have further personnel concerns strike, with Abd El Rahman Abd El Khalek booked for dissenting Chu's goal to referee William Mkuchika, and Fokko Schlattmeier then taking an accidental knee to the groin from Heng.
The second half restarted with Moey Xin Seng
sending a statement of intent with his chasing down and tackling of Chew Long Hock from behind, for which he joined Abd El Rahman in the book. It was probably worth it from how it raised his teammates' combativeness, however, which was sorely required against a team as closely-matched as Deinos. The hosts knew how to switch into defence effectively, and after several passes aimed at supply the forwards went amiss, Kalki Parvathaneni
would have a go from just outside - and saw it fly into the far top corner for 3-1.
One could hardly deny an element of luck for that, but there could be no explanation other than sheer hard work for the next. Never known as one to concern himself with the defensive side of the game before recently, Heng Dong Chu
had expended himself in pressing Deinos' defenders whenever the opportunity presented itself, and his thankless efforts would result in a short backpass from Shenoy in the 59th. This was all Heng needed, as he sprang onto the loose ball, and steered it across the outside of Răducu before executing the tap-in.
It was Heng's first - and entirely deserved - league goal of a long season, and also his last touch of the match, as Wu Jinglong
had been waiting to replace him on the sidelines for some minutes actually. The duo would exchange a warm embrace once the switch was made, before Grilled was rudely reminded that such niceties could wait; Deinos might have been blitzed, but they were still very much a threat, as seen with Fokko Schlattmeier's delivery from the right side in the 66th. Many strikers might have let that one go, but not Tarkowski, who somehow kept it in before Mateja Jeftić
and finishing from the narrowest of angles.
This definitely didn't reflect well on the Birds' defence, and more was to come from the hosts. With nothing left to lose, Deinos could afford to abandon themselves on attack, and were all the more dangerous for it. They flirted with exposing themselves to a devastating reversal in their all-out press in the 71st minute, but Grilled simply couldn't nick the ball off them, and Shenov would partially redeem his previous lapses with a very nice sidefooted volley that surprised Jānis Salmiņš
Club Dinosauria were on the verge of turning it around, which also renewed their caution, and ultimately probably prevented the comeback from happening. Serpin would shore the Birds' backline up by putting Gilbert Webb
on for the increasingly error-prone Jeftić as well, and this indeed contributed to Grilled being rather more steady at the back. Four minutes of time would be added, but the Birds hogged the ball for most of those, after eating some precious seconds away with Bernie Egan
's substitution on for Mudaliar.