Grilled Birds' reduced side was no match at all for a just-relegated Random Curiosity FC on their home ground, which was perhaps no more than could be expected. What the fans were watching out for, then, was how their mix of new and old would mesh - and for that, the signs might tentatively be held as encouraging. Chan Ze Han
was by far the team's brightest light in a doomed endeavour, but even he would be eclipsed by Manuel August's creativity on Curiosity's end.
Random Curiosity FC had lasted two seasons for their latest S-League stint, while managing to defeat the Birds in both league meetings in the first of those seasons, so the result as expected. Cyprus international midfielder Giannos Giangou, an S$18 million acquisition from Faroese top division club Kvívík Gothers, would debut today, but Michelangelo Del Riccio's squad was otherwise mostly settled. The departure of main goalkeeper Nicola Paladino to AFC Black Pirates aside, there had been no major personnel movements for them, over the past year.
The same very much could not be said for Grilled Birds, of course, and with Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud also gone, it would be left to Chan Ze Han
to shoulder the striking burden more or less by himself. Moey Xin Seng
and Teo Chuan Yong
would join him in the frontlines, but Teo never being a true forward aside, Moey is now approaching 38 years, and very much out of his prime. The same might be said for a 35 year-old Bilal Mohammad Harun
, who would be assigned to right wing, where he kept trying to return to the middle, limiting his effectiveness.
Curiosity would begin the day with a couple of free-kicks awarded by trigger-happy Finnish referee Petri Keisu, who was only too eager to send the signal that he would not tolerate any nonsense today. Aw Keng Chuan
was his first victim for a minor shove on Ingvi Grétarsson, and Ziad Zahreddine went for the cheeky lift over the wall, which could have worked had Albanian star winger Ujkan Kurmaku made good contact. The next one in the sixth minute was in a far more isolated position, and the Birds were relatively prepared for the cross that came in.
There was no question that Grilled were on the ropes at Yagami High, for all their early defensive successes, and Bhavya Panigrahi
would be especially vulnerable with his speed and agility not what it once was. He barely escaped giving away a penalty in the 14th minute by taking Falagh Hatami Nia down just outside the box, having missed the interception from August, and the Birds hobbled along for about twenty more minutes, before Giangou announced himself with a flourish. Waltzing inside the penalty area with options to his right and left, he eschewed both and feinted a pass so convincingly that Manuel Vadalà
started moving in the same direction, before sending the ball into the new-exposed net.
Vadalà's day went downhill very quickly after that, as he next allowed Polish defender Mateusz Wentowski to squeeze a drive between his legs, as Han De Yeng attacked up the right side. Chia Kwang Tse
's entry for Lim An Keng
brought no relief for the Birds, as the youngster could only continue Lim's diligent-but-doomed tracking. The hosts could afford to wait and pick their chances, and Han would become one of their favoured outlets, with Lau Chu Soon
looking and acting dispirited. The former youth international would send an inviting cross at just the right height in the 62nd, and in came Ty Nakamura with the diagonal run and assured header from the other flank, for the third.
It would be four-nil just five minutes later, as August finally figured out free-kicks against Grilled. So dominant in other respects and heavily involved in most of Curiosity's most-dangerous combinations, he had been stricken by bad luck with his finishes, but there was no mistaking his genius in directing the later part of this indirect free-kick. It would be worked to an unmarked Ingvi Grétarsson after a couple of dummy rushes, for the simplest of tap-ins.
The Swiss Number Seventeen would require medical attention after tweaking his left calf in the execution, but to the relief of the home crowd, he would be back on his feet in a jiffy. A concerned-looking Del Riccio would be able to take Zahreddine off as originally planned, for veteran midfielder Lars Eng. This had Iranian striker Nia respond with a strong dribble breaking Grilled's backline, but Manuel Vadalà
would come up with firm hands this time.
Random Curiosity FC and Nia would not let it go at that, however, and they continued working for further goals, with the Birds being no threat by now. Chan Ze Han
dropping all the way into his own penalty area helped somewhat, and the Birds seemed to have earned a breather, as Kurmaku wiped Gilbert Webb
's feet from underneath him, in trying to pressure him into a turnover. It turned out to be a hidden curse, unfortunately, as Grilled tried too hard to create a consolation goal, and fell prey to Nia's counter instead.