A Long Time In Coming
This fourth round Singapore Cup match would end 7-1 in Grilled Birds' favour against ArseVikings, which in turn was thirty-four long seasons since the two clubs last met, then in II.2 - where the Serangoon stalwarts are currently leading the table. A Birds side that included the still-callow Tian Yonghang
and Mohd Safri were taught a hefty lesson then, as they lost 0-5. Today, therefore, would be Grilled's first victory in this fixture.
ArseVikings had never quite made the final step up, it might be noted, as they boast of eight Division Three titles, but none in Division Two as yet. Straight wins over Talpons, BuddyBoys and Crypto Moon have seen them in pole position, though there has been some debate over whether they can last the distance, mostly over possible deficiencies in a few key positions. Central midfield was a particular concern, with North Macedonian veteran Klime Joveski's unavailability meaning that the rather more elderly Jan Kitel had to step in. The young pair of Rafa Trianon and Angelo Mosca would also raise questions about their right flank for the day - questions that as it turned out, were well-founded.
With the cup being Grilled's only route back into international competition for the season, it was little wonder that commentators had pegged it as Hilal Bakhtiar
's top priority, and the head coach has done little to disabuse them of that notion. This would be another close to full-strength selection, with the biggest novelty being Douglas Carapaica
's deployment as a defensive central midfielder. This left room for Gilbert Webb
to start in defence, with Bhavya Panigrahi
taking his first extended break in awhile. Shekar Kannan
would also feature at right wing, with Kalki opposite him.
The first few exchanges would be led by ArseVikings for all that, with Josep Maria Musté and Umberto Fossi establishing a temporary advantage over the Birds' midfield. Their energy opened space in other areas of the pitch, and Spanish winger Gabin Larrondo would get in behind on the right in the 13th minute, as Kannan pressed Fossi fruitlessly. Jānis Salmiņš
would barely get to the cross before Edmundo Garre, thankfully, and play would swing in the other direction as Kannan was now unattended. He went for the obvious short pass on to Vikram Mudaliar
, who in turn had enough honest pace to run away from Théau Bador to score.
Garre was not about to take that lying down, and if ever there was a like-for-like response, his would be it. There didn't seem much in it when he got the ball with back to goal on ArseViking's next advance from the restart, but the Spanish Number Ten would boldly knock it past Gilbert Webb
, and take the Scottish centreback on. Well, being thirty-seven doesn't do much for one's speed, as Webb found to his dismay. Salmiņš wasn't slow in getting off his line either, but would also be found out by Garre's quickdraw strike.
Now back on level terms, ArseVikings tried to build on their newfound momentum, but it wouldn't last for much longer this time around. The Birds were simply on another level once they had settled, and it would be Moey and Bilal's turn to lord it in the middle, with Douglas holding the fort. Shekar Kannan
continued to entertain on the right, and sprayed one low and hard for the forwards 25 minutes in, with Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
just half a second too late behind 18 year-old Swedish custodian Nick Rosen.
It got very bad for Rosen very quickly, as ArseViking's collapsing right flank saw the Birds adroitly peeling the defence away from the centre. This worked only too well - three times in four minutes, in fact - and left both Abd Hadi and Mudaliar with braces, by the time opposing captain Théau Bador managed to instill some organization back into his team. Of course, it was probably too late for them by then, as their supporters in the stands well realized.
With it being 4-1 at half-time, the Birds could well afford to slow the pace down in the second half, with a view towards preserving as much of their ageing legs as possible. This would present ArseVikings with less of a problem, and although both Bilal and Mudaliar would try curlers from just outside the box, both would be marginally off. Kalki Parvathaneni
's excellent time on the left would also hit a snag with twelve minutes remaining, when he took Trianon down from behind quite unnecessarily. Qatari referee Sameer Bin Tareq Al-Nuaimi was having none of that, and awarded Kalki the only yellow card of the game.
There were no hard feelings from Trianon at least, not that Kalki dwelt on it for long, as he raced inside to make it 5-1 just two minutes after his foul. The goal torch would then be taken up by Douglas Carapaica
, whose output had dwindled after a very promising beginning to his Grilled career two seasons back. Two goals in his first two appearances would be followed by just two more in the next twenty-eight, but he would not hesitate when an indirect free-kick ran loose to him, after a blocked effort by Chan Ze Han
Douglas had one more in him, actually, as he started to really cut loose as the won match continued towards its end. His cheeky chip on an incursion in the 84th seemed like it could have gone anywhere, but turned out to be hit at just the right angle and pace, to get over Rosen and drop in at the far corner of goal. That was it, then.