The Cooking Pot witnessed Grilled Birds' worst home defeat in six seasons since their 0-5 sweep by Batok Earthquakes, as they were crushed for four goals by main title rivals Sarcastic Fringeheads. Swedish veteran forward Finn Karlsson, having not scored in his three latest starts against Grilled, would ring up a hat-trick, that was largely down to Marco Foppa's work down the left.
The implosion against Earthquakes had happened on a similar wet and to-be miserable day, but the circumstances were otherwise quite unalike - then, it was the Bunnies flying in the S-League, and while Grilled did eventually win the Emerald Challenger Cup, they were headed for a mid-table finish in Division Two. This Grilled side on the other hand had just taken two national titles, and Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
's brought with him the promise of greater things to come.
Abd Hadi would start in a three-man attack just behind Vikram Mudaliar
and Chan Ze Han
, but as Fringeheads had demonstrated with much the same tactic of man-marking Chan last season, it was always going to be a frustrating grind - and that before the weather. The all-day islandwide rainfall meant that movement was always going to be hampered, which played right into the visitors' gameplan. They might not have refreshed their squad appreciably, but it remained enough to pose big problems when their stars aligned.
Align they did throughout the game, as Grilled went about the thankless task of breaking Fringeheads' five-man backline down, without the luxury of being able to dribble. Heng Dong Chu
, the intended ball-carrier on the right, was particularly hampered, and he would literally fall flat on his face against Foppa's challenge in the tenth minute. There was no waiting to send the angled long ball downfield, and although there was a hint of offside as Karlsson got his nose ahead, replays would conclusively prove that he had timed his move - and his finish - perfectly.
This was a hammerblow to the Birds, and fortune was clearly not on their side either today, as their immediate reponse, perhaps their best-worked chance of the day, would have Abd Hadi put it onto the far post after luring Artur Rosa Gomes Oliveira wide. The intensity didn't take long to hit fever pitch, with yellow cards shown to Lillebror Bengtsson and Kalki Parvathaneni
in quick succession, after the constant midfield tussling - much of it borderline foul - threatened to spill over into outright brawls. Still, Grilled held on to the initiative, and Panigrahi would be entrusted with a big free-kick opportunity in the 20th minute, with Mudaliar first doing the dummy run. The execution was blameless, but Oliveira just about got to it.
Fringeheads were certainly the ones with the better mental backing at this stage, having survived two strikes that might well have been goals on most other days, and Karlsson would soon double their advantage. Last season's big signing Lillebror Bengtsson would be in the clear after battling past Chu Xin Lee
, and the Birds were again shorthanded on the left, with Bengtsson, Foppa and Karlsson bearing down on their two defenders, with their midfield slow to react. Karlsson made the most of the numerical superiority in launching himself straight down the middle, and Salmiņš' prompt going to ground would not be enough to prevent the low effort from slipping through.
Well, this silenced the home crowd for sure, and although they regained their voice soon enough, there was to be no uptick for the Birds. Another reactionary push ended with Kalki Parvathaneni
bombing it right into the goalkeeper, and Hilal Bakhtiar
would attempt to freshen the side's look, by taking the largely-unimpressive Chu off for Salah Kamel
. Sadly, it didn't work, and Fringeheads were soon 3-0 up, thanks to Gareth Illes scrambling home following another strong Foppa run.
It could hardly be missed by now that all of Grilled's problems were coming down their right side, with the experiment of playing Heng Dong Chu
as an inverted winger seemingly having backfired spectacularly. Panigrahi, woefully exposed for those goals, would nearly lose it with a panicked go at moving the ball up, only to be bailed out by Sølve Lunde
. Kalki Parvathaneni
would then pull off a tremendous sprint into the box, but Bogdan Bărbulescu just about kept the final pass from reaching Chan Ze Han
, and the Birds were reduced to having Bilal Mohammad Harun
thrash it more in hope than anything, from some sixteen yards; it wasn't that bad actually, and Oliveira would have to stretch to keep it out.
That was however of little consolation to Grilled, who were still pitifully goalless, despite coming tantalizingly close on several occasions. Fringeheads were happy enough to shore up their defence by withdrawing Huang Jianming for Ivan Borichev, which wouldn't prevent Vikram Mudaliar
from engineering a pair of near-breakthroughs in succession, around the 72nd minute. Oliveira was equal to both, however, which had Bakhtiar send Douglas Carapaica
on for Lunde, in an apparent random roll of the dice.
No change there either, as Grilled toiled fruitlessly towards a consolation at least, and it would instead be Karlsson to complete the humiliation right before injury time, after a slip by Panigrahi in a puddle. The defender could barely bear to pick himself off the grass at that, and would have to be pulled to his feet by sympathetic teammates.