Heng Can't Catch Break
Few expected any less as league propper-uppers Blacksail Team visited The Cooking Pot, but there were perhaps somewhat fewer goals than might have been, as the Birds went off the boil entering the second half. Given that they were three up by the 34th minute, this might not have been too unexpected. Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
for one could have reprised his hat-trick in the opener, but opposing goalkeeper Georgi Koychev had his number today.
Big wipeouts by SingaStyle and Ang Mohs in flip flops in the previous rounds left even Blacksail's biggest supporters with little hope for the day, although they did have a 5-1 win over former national champions FC Barca Singapore from Wednesday in the Ruby Challenger Cup to savour. An unchanged team would make the trip to Jurong today, with Scottish captain Martin MacGuigan in even better form, if anything. He would be met by countryman Gilbert Webb
in the Birds central defence, which was also Webb's first league start of the season. By the time it ended, there was no doubt who got the best of this outing.
Blacksail pointedly kept to head coach Visgirdas Ijevlevas's intention of overpowering with width, but while they did stake out Grilled's flanks often enough, they would struggle to convert those happenings to actual chances, with both forwards Camilo Chía and Moisés Romano too often in no position to receive the final ball. Against that, Grilled's normal game was doubtless more effective, and Salah Kamel
would make the most of his return to central midfield, with a dinky 26th minute chip that seemed to take a deflection over Koychev.
More was to come pretty soon, and three minutes later, it was Chan Ze Han
profiting from Heng Dong Chu
's dynamic dribble against Javier Vázquez on the left, as he finished from a tight angle after opting to go to the outside. Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
- at central forward again - lived up to his new responsibilities next, as he ran through to all but close the argument scarcely half an hour into the day.
This was nothing the traveling fans hadn't already prepared themselves for, from the looks of it, and what was perhaps more remarkable was that the visitors managed to make it to the break, without going further behind. The danger had certainly not passed for Blacksail, with Vikram Mudaliar
firing barely over a minute later, and then a poor attempt at playing the ball out from the back, ending with Abd Hadi foreseeing it and nearly intercepting. Fortunately for them, Raúl Leoz didn't shirk at the critical moment, and just about saved their bacon with a timely slide to clear.
Even the most optimistic of Blacksail's contingent would have to admit that they were not getting their first point out of this, from their performance in the first half, and Moey Xin Seng
made quadruply sure of that four minutes following the restart. It was an otherwise quiet Chu Xin Lee
who had made it to the touchline then, and although Moey's header was somewhat off-kilter, Russian midfielder Vadim Kushakov - who had been dutifully shadowing him - did his goalie no favours, with his attempted block completely changing the direction of the ball. That was possibly an own goal, but it would be eventually credited to Moey.
That turned out to be as far as Grilled would take it, as Hilal Bakhtiar
started motioning for his players to take it easier - not that that saved Heng Dong Chu
. The 32 year-old winger, one of the team's top contributors before this, would create for Salah Kamel
in the 55th minute after a mazy dribble fading from the left to middle. Kamel rang it off the outside of the post, sadly, and Heng would be left writhing clutching his knee, after putting too much stress on it in his final sudden pivot. At least it was not as if the Birds didn't have a ready replacement in Kalki Parvathaneni
, who took over without a hitch.
Kalki would indeed feed Vikram Mudaliar
for a half-chance in his first run upon coming on, but it would get much more low-profile after that, as the Birds began to concentrate on holding possession while minimizing risk. Blacksail certainly weren't complaining - or contesting - too hard, moreover as all they would have to face would be Abd Hadi's solo breakthrough in the 73rd. The Number Eight definitely looked great in clearing two defenders with an intoxicating mix of speed and skill, but Georgi Koychev remained, and met the final strike with no less outstanding reflexes.
This turned out to be Grilled's last real chance in regular time, though Salah Kamel
did ping another off the crossbar in injury time, after Sølve Lunde
and Shekar Kannan
had made last-minute appearances. Good enough for the home fans, so it seemed.