Down We Go
Jokers Come Up Aces
Grilled Birds were relegated a season after winning their third S-League title, as they tanked badly in their qualifier against Geylang's Joker 9. The thirteenth meeting between the clubs proved particularly unfortunate for the Birds, as they suffered their biggest loss to the Jokers - who thus snapped a three-match losing run against Grilled - thus far.
Now, Grilled had not been covering themselves in glory in recent weeks, as they retained something of their past attacking potency, but also succumbed to at times comical defending. Hilal Bakhtiar
had promised to see to that, but evidently had not managed to fix the problem yet. There was little indication of that at the beginning against the new II.4 champions, however, after they won the Division Two league on their seventh try, edging Club Dinosauria by a point in the process. 20 year-old prodigy Nitin Anchan would lead the line today, alongside buddies Lim Tze Soon and Norshahrul Idlan Mohd Hassan, the former of whon has already been capped thrice for the national youth side.
The Birds would find themselves immediately in trouble at The Cooking Pot, however, despite the mostly-partisan crowd of over 87,000 in attendance, that had gathered to will the team to another shot at the S-League. The difference in attitude was night and day as the visitors imposed their style as if they were the home side, as the advancing age of Grilled's regulars told. Heng Dong Chu
at 32 years was the youngest of a midfield and forward unit whose average age shaded thirty-five, and there was simply no-one to doff the running off on, as the Jokers busied themselves.
Eight minutes in, Grilled would have to confront their first crisis, as French Number Eight David Losson casually sold a dummy to Moey Xin Seng
, before feeding Lim Tze Soon - who shot wide. That was a portent of what was to come, and Anchan would not fail three minutes later, as his team again played their way through the middle with honest endeavour. A clearly-rusty Bilal Mohammad Harun
simply could adapt to the pace, and Jokers captain Hatem Saâda opened the way for Anchan, who weighed his curler around Jānis Salmiņš
That said, Anchan remains a work in progress despite his obvious strengths, such as his speed, which may be why he has yet to receive a national call-up despite usually being rated above Lim and Norshahrul. He would make a mess of a sitter generously donated by Máté Veseta in the 19th minute, which was also about when Grilled's midfield began to assert themselves for a bit. The at-times gritty struggle went on till the 34th minute, when a winding run from Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
down the left would end up with him taking the shot on himself. The Jokers' Jordanian goalkeeper Kedar Bany Hani wasn't expecting that, and it zipped in at his near post for 1-1.
Anchan would respond with a terrific run that Salmiņš barely beat him to on the final sprint, and then Grilled went ahead somewhat against the general flow. The visitors would abruptly lose the ball in midfield after Aditya Balan had dallied too long in trying to pick his pass, and Bilal would scoop it to the left, more to relieve the pressure than anything. It went straight to Kalki Parvathaneni
somehow, and the very productive Number Ten would execute a basic give-and-go with Chan Ze Han
to perfection, which bought him enough room to finish.
That brief spell of delight would be met by a triple knockout from Joker 9, unfortunately, beginning with Chu Xin Lee
getting booked for a late leg sweep on Norshahrul. The free-kick was played immediately out left, which had David Losson equalize with a huge header. Anchan's persistence would then be rewarded when he blazed past Sølve Lunde
to put the Jokers ahead again right before the forty-five minutes were up, and there remained enough time for Norshahrul to make it four, following a laughably bad square ball across the back, from Bhavya Panigrahi
The stands were like a morgue as the home supporters contemplated this latest atrocious letdown, and it was telling that most of the Grilled players refused to meet their gazes, when trooping back into the tunnel. The second half brought no discernable improvement, with the visitors clearly having far more conviction on victory. Losson would leave a mark on Moey with a rough tackle in the 47th, and Norshahrul would be on hand to capitalize on a defensive mistake once more three minutes later, with Lunde misjudging Panigrahi's position this time.
There would be audible murmurs of discontent, and a few empty seats, upon that - but Grilled were actually putting up a fair fight for a period afterwards. It might have been so different had they managed to score a couple then, which was not at all out of the question, with Heng Dong Chu
and then Moey Xin Seng
having Hani at their mercy, on separate occasions. Alas, neither got it on target, to the great consternation of the redoubtable Kalki Parvathaneni
, who had manufactured both chances.
Instead, it would be the Jokers to pull further ahead, as the goal that their fans had been waiting for arrived. Moey's miss would be swiftly returned up the right flank largely via Máté Veseta, and some mass maneuvering found Lim Tze Soon free with the ball some six yards out. Salmiņš tried to rush the forward, but Lim's killer instinct rose to the fore, as he sent it between the goalie's legs, right as he made his move.
Norshahrul would then pass up a hat-trick in the 83rd minute, as Gilbert Webb
- who had just replaced an underperforming Lunde - harried his strike just about sufficiently at the end. Tommaso Corvaglia would up it to 7-2 Jokers on the spilled save, anyway, and after a rather downcast Heng and Mudaliar were taken off for Kannan and Mottl in the final minute, Kalki would ring a parting shot off the post, not that it mattered at all.