For the first-ever league meeting in their history after four cup meetings - for which Villains F.C. had won the latest three, including in the last two seasons - there would be no winner; the high-flying Villains would exit The Cooking Pot with a draw on stiff defending and able finishing, as Jens Sletner maintained his record of scoring against the Birds, as early as the sixteenth minute.
Villains were starting the second in the table level on points with Haha, after defeating Random Curiosity FC and Robbie Football Club in earlier rounds, and with at least three goals each time. Japanese player-coach Yujiro Murai would keep up the adaptation by changing formation once again, and it would be a 4-5-1 - and former Kuwaiti youth international Majeed Saad man-marking Chan Ze Han
- on show today.
One couldn't complain about the weather at least, with brilliant sunshine carpeting the pitch this Sunday morning, as the Birds went about their business without too much delay. Ciprian Huiet was another player who had consistently made himself known against Grilled, and he would be kept occupied as sweeper, against the three-pronged attack of Mudaliar, Mazhud and Ze Han. That left Kalki Parvathaneni
unaccounted for, though, and Kalki's unreasonable effectiveness cutting in from the left continued, as he blew past Dieter Boven on the inside in the 8th minute, before thrashing a drive between Zvjezdan Ražić's legs.
It's hard to imagine that opponents have not managed to come to grips with this maneuver, but Kalki has evidently mastered its execution. Grilled were holding all the cards at this point, but would be rudely interrupted by a vigorous run by Pierre Laurent right at their central defence. The Frenchman was not exactly known for such directness, which perhaps threw Grilled's midfield off. Bilal Mohammad Harun
chased but couldn't get the tackle in, and Jens Sletner would eventually carry the charge on, before firing a marvellous strike right into the roof of the net for one-all.
That did wonders for the visitors' composure, and Bogdan Siczek would for one get stuck in far more. He would be booked for trying to rob Douglas Carapaica
in defence, and had a one-on-one fluffed in the 32nd minute. In between, Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
created a glittering opportunity for himself as he glided past three defenders to the right, but his finishing half-volley would skew harmlessly wide.
Grilled would enter the break in the lead, however, as the building pressure told. Villains' first wind would be dying down by the half-hour mark, and they were again looking to counter. Chan Ze Han
would settle for a corner against their low block, which saw Moey Xin Seng
fling himself at it, after the goalkeeper had barely parried Salah Kamel
's initial header. Vladimír Hanák tried to respond quickly, but Jānis Salmiņš
saved well around the post.
Murai would take himself off for Wong Jian Yew after an indifferent restart for Villains, and this at first appeared to barely help their cause. Grilled were coming very close now, especially with all the excellent shots unleashed from deep; Douglas Carapaica
sent one whistling over the crossbar as he broke from the middle third in the 64th, and Bilal went some inches better with his effort a minute later, after a naughty dummy by Chu Xin Lee
. Alas, that remained a little too high.
The next goal would turn out to be the Villains', however, and it would be Ciprian Huiet to again frustrate the Birds. Scorer in their 5-4 knockout in the Singapore Cup two seasons past, the Romanian do-it-all would exhibit incredible sense in knowing when to lend his weight to the attack, and was first in the box when Vladimír Hanák got free down the left. Hanák played the cross short, and Huiet's sidefooted effort at the far post was a beauty to behold.
Grilled's supporters were definitely not amused at this latest setback, and there would be rare grousing heard from the stands, to which Bakhtiar threw Heng Dong Chu
on for Kalki, in hopes of immediate impact. That worked, sort of, as the winger's determined run would draw a striker's challenge out of Siczek, which amounted to a second yellow and sending-off. Since Villains were not exactly looking to score, though, the dismissal perhaps meant less that it should have.
The Birds' final real chance would turn out to be a free-kick right on the edge of the penalty area, which had Villains literally pull everybody back, with seven in their wall and Wong gamely flattening himself behind it. He needn't have bothered, however, as Panigrahi very disappointingly sent it into the upper tier.