Robbie Impose Wait
Grilled would not be able to confirm the title at the Blue Planetarium, as Robbie Football Club claimed their first victory over the Birds in their most recent eight meetings, with a strong derby performance. The Grilled side looked tired as they dragged themselves against the hosts' ultra-defensive 5-5-0, in which RFC were only too happy to settle themselves, after establishing an early lead through their distance shooting.
had been the talk of the town in the lead-up, with there being little surprise as to how Robbie would approach the match. The Latvian custodian would project utter confidence in those interviews, but it would be barely two minutes, before he had to eat his words. In fairness, Salmiņš' positioning was spot-on then; it was merely a matter of Jonas Vrubelevsky's strike being crafted to perfection, as it curled just sufficiently to take it past the goalkeeper, before bending sharply in at the far post.
The home supporters definitely loved it, as Douglas and Jeftić were left exchanging looks at each other, on whether they should have closed Vrubelevsky down a lot earlier. There was nothing for it but to get on with the rest of the game, and to Grilled's consternation, they would not be able to direct much of it. Unlike so many other teams they had faced, RFC were quite adept at keeping the ball themselves, and were only too eager to follow Antti Ravi's instructions to the book, by recycling it at the back. Most fans would not be humoured by such a playstyle, but apparently the RFC set were disgusted enough by their long winless streak against the Birds, that anything would do.
Robbie Football Club continued to challenge Grilled to get the ball off them, which was easier said than done when they were willing to play it back at the merest danger. Range was not required here either with them not often venturing into the final third out of their own will, with a notable exception being Arturo Brettoni's dash through to fire a trickily-bobbling grounder at goal, in the 17th minute. Salmiņš scrambled that out for a corner that was headed behind by Douglas for a repeat, and RFC would put themselves two up on this try through Davide Luigi Savorgnani's very imposing header.
This was looking quite bad for the Birds indeed, but Chan Ze Han
had other ideas as he got one back. Well in the running for the league Golden Boot, Chan would show off the clever off-the-ball running that had so distinguished him from many other top forwards, as his teammates worked a short free-kick around the penalty area. It still took Chu Xin Lee
to release the required pass, which was weighted just right for Chan to take the shot in his stride. There wasn't even that much power behind it, but the placement was exquisite enough that Dennis Koenigsegg barely even noticed where it was going.
Grilled enjoyed a brief spurt of possession after that goal, but the basic tenor of the match had not actually changed. RFC, upon regaining the ball, would seek to slow the pace down as much as possible, which soon cooled Grilled's ardour. This was accompanied by judicious tactical fouling, one such by Savorgnani in the 31st minute, right when Vikram Mudaliar
appeared to have given the defence the slip. That was a straight yellow for the Italian winger, but well worth it to the home fans.
Savorgnani would score his second goal of the day two minutes afterwards anyhow, as Jānis Salmiņš
once more proved helpless against an unsaveable effort. The threat seemed relatively minimal as Bonifacy Fiks advanced to the head of the penalty area, only to turn around and roll it back to Savorgnani, only for him to literally find the corner of post and crossbar, from all of thirty-five yards. To that, all Salmiņš could do was to silently pick the ball out of his net.
Chan Ze Han
was always up for a challenge, and it was not as if Grilled had not been pulling unlikely comebacks off left, right and centre, in recent weeks; taking a leaf from Robbie's playbook, the Grilled star would weave in between three defenders on the edge of the box, and hit an unexpected half-volley after Pier Giuseppe Licciardello got a foot in. Gunārs Dravenieks had recovered from his tackle by then, though, and protected Koenigsegg with a prompt sliding block.
Such chances were not as plentiful as the Birds would have preferred, as RFC's patience bore them forward, and they were the ones who seemed more likely to extend their lead in the opening part of the second half. A particular double attempt had Salmiņš finally able to make a contribution, as he first pushed Licciardello's thunderstroke aside by his fingertips, before managing to hold onto Linskens's equally-fierce follow-up from a half-minute later.
All Grilled created in fifteen minutes would be a slender half-chance mishit by Teo Chuan Yong
, which rightly had Bakhtair unveil not-so-secret reserve weapon Wu Jinglong
, who ran in to take over from Chu Xin Lee
on the right side. It remained hard for a single man to make that much of a difference, however, but Wu would earn a free-kick similar to the one that Chan had scored from, in the 70th minute. RFC were ready this time, sadly, and captain Arturo Brettoni took great pleasure in shepherding it behind versus Bernie Egan
, in front of his supporters.
Moey Xin Seng
was next to enter for Bilal Mohammad Harun
in the 75th, and finally Gilbert Webb
for Mateja Jeftić
with five minutes remaining, but it was always looking futile, from how the hosts were hogging the ball. Jens Petur Jakobsen nearly stuck the dagger in with a potential cracker from the corner of the penalty area in the last minute of regular time, but for once a Robbie shooter failed to get it on target.