The Chosen, The Champs
Teo Finds Target
The Birds might have passed up on their first shot at securing their third S-League title, but there would be no second slip-up against -= Manchester United =- at home. The visitors were feisty enough as they refused to simply concede to Grilled, and it could have been dicey had one of their first-half efforts gone in. Goalkeeper Jānis Salmiņš
had a great day, fortunately for the Birds, with much the same to be said for Chu Xin Lee
coming in from the right.
had recovered enough to be on the bench, but not to start, and this would be a slightly odd-looking lineup - Bernie Egan
with Moey up front with Mudaliar in reserve and Kalki shockingly not making the grade entirely, Heng Dong Chu
conspiciously tucking in on the left, and Gilbert Webb
starting alongside Douglas Carapaica
at the back. The well-oiled machine was looking a tad improvised, but against a United side whose only away wins in the league have come against Crypto Moon and Ramseille Volliard FC - sixth and eighth in the table respectively - this might just be enough.
As the commentators noted, it should not take long to find out in this fixture. United's improved performances have bought some respite from criticism for their head coach Przemysław Kuziemski, who admittedly had retained enough board trust to lay out S$14 million for Marcelino Fiore and nearly S$13 million for Pierre-Étienne Marguet about the middle of the season, to reignite their attack. The former, starting at left wing, would duly combine well to set Dejan Skrt up for a shot from the top of the penalty area in the tenth minute, that required Jānis Salmiņš
to be quick on his feet.
Grilled had weathered something of an early battering there, but they were fast to turn it on United when they could, and Chan Ze Han
would willingly settle for a free-kick against Beau Gilmont on the long ball out. In the absence of Mateja Jeftić
, Webb would step up to hit it, and wasn't that far away at all from how it clanged off the left post, and deep into the screaming gallery.
What finally calmed the game down was not some calculated holding play, though, but one of the most serious injuries that The Cooking Pot had seen for some years. Ever uncompromising, Danish forward Ejler Haugaard would clamber over the somewhat-larger Douglas on a lob, and the Grilled centreback seemed to know little of it, as both went down in a heap. It seemed a clear foul by Haugaard, but replays soon revealed that he had by far taken the worst of the fall, uncontrolled and full on his right shoulder, before it further took most of Douglas' weight.
From the horror on the faces of nearby players, it had to be snapped or at least badly dislocated, and the cameras would cut away for a long while. It never looked like Haugaard would be able to continue as the stadium gradually fell into silence, and it was something of a relief that he could signal weakly with his left hand, on being ferried off on oxygen. Pierre-Étienne Marguet would enter in his stead, but United's initial fluency would be lost.
The Birds were definitely not above seizing the initiative after their opponents' misfortune, and would heed Bakhtiar's all-too-vocal instructions to be more cautious, and slow the pace down in possession. This was seldom a bad idea with Bilal and Teo - two top controllers - in the team, and Teo would have a trick up his sleeve in any case. Without a goal in his 36 previous competitive appearances for Grilled, it could easily be forgiven for United to not place too much importance on marking Teo... at least up until he switched flanks, took over the dribbling from Heng, and narrowly slid it past Izydor Tovtuk.
Grilled's fans certainly didn't mind Teo's long wait to score, from how they responded, and more joy was in store. The goal spurred United into an aggressive reflex response, which however went poorly for them as they ate a massed advance by the Birds in return. Bilal, unlike Teo, was very much a recognized shooting threat, and was thus closed down with all haste as he approached the penalty area. Chu Xin Lee
was there to throw a spanner into the works with his diligent running into space, though, and Tovtuk would again be beaten by a fine margin, as Chu just about scrambled past the last man.
The visitors were getting fairly hot and bothered at going further behind, and Viktor Saunov would not very subtly take it out on Heng, for which he was fortunate to stay on. Tovtuk would come good in the 34th minute with a big save off Kalle ter Berg
's dipping header, after which Skrt had another good chance from deep, but ended up pulling it slightly wide. It was left to Chu Xin Lee
to make it 3-0 Birds, as Heng's determined dribble down the left side came to fruition.
The home fans could not help but sing through the interval of another championship, but United would apply a heavy dose of reality, two minutes after the restart. Grilled had, alas, gotten complacent, and no-one picked up on Sim Chin Chi when he made his move, with Horst Friedrich Dalen on the ball. That was far too obvious an opportunity for the centre-forward to overlook, and a prompt reverse pass had Sim shuffle it past Salmiņš relatively easily.
Grilled's response was another free-kick by Webb won by Egan, but Tovtuk was again equal to it, as he followed it all the way up until it hit the crossbar. It would finally be third time lucky for the Scotsman, as the Birds were again swift on the counter, following Viktor Saunov's abortive approach at the other end. The foul would be slightly further out this time, but as it happened, the additional few yards of distance were just what Webb needed, to get the delivery down.
4-1 was starting to look safe enough for Grilled, Horst Friedrich Dalen's 60th minute breakthrough excepted, all the more after Hilal Bakhtiar
's tactical subs for the final twenty minutes. Webb and Moey, both on the wrong side of 35, would be replaced by Mateja Jeftić
and Vikram Mudaliar
respectively, with Chan Ze Han
inheriting the captaincy. Chu Xin Lee
lasted somewhat longer, but the hero of the day would eventually also come off, for Wu Jinglong
in the 85th minute.
The home fans had long been in full voice with their prize assured by a three-goal cushion, and although Egan failed to cap the day with a fifth from one last push, it would be a party into the night in Jurong nonetheless.