The Birds returned to league action with a bang, smashing semi-professional opponents LAVINO QUAY 7-1 without any undue exertion. The centrally-based club would see their 12,000-seater filled after an unlikely-seeming rise that took them from Division Five to III.5 after successive promotions, and then a series swap with Merlion F.C. into III.1. The fanfare wouldn't last once the ball started getting kicked around, sadly, as Grilled made it look easy.
Given the expected outcome, the identity of the opening scorer had attracted higher-than-usual interest from the betting fraternity, but few of them could have been pleased by the actual lucky guy. 40 year-old Scots defender Gilbert Webb
had never been one to find the net in the last few seasons, but the space afforded him by the hosts would see him free to wander upfield, as in his younger years. Mohd Marzuki Khairul
saw no issue in setting Webb up for a crack, and a great right-footer it was too!
That seemed to settle nerves on both ends, and although LAVINO would concede again to Chan Ze Han
in the 17th minute after a breakdown of their right-sided defence, they did gain a measure of assurance in possession. This had Rushanizam bin Mohd Zain fool the Birds' midfield with a snappy reverse pass long to Liang Xuanhua in the 21st minute, who however couldn't get it under control. Three minutes later, defender Ang Hock Boon set off on a gutsy run that took him past Atang Mangoye
, but Webb was there to clean up.
This was as good as it got for LAVINO for a long while, as Grilled's forwards expressed themselves freely soon afterwards. Welsh newcomer Joe Reece
had made it explicit that he wanted to make a bang on his debut, and after several over-excited false starts, he got the goal he wanted with a hearty volley beyond the despairing reach of goalkeeper Tan Chee Hao. An assist followed, as Reece waited for Chan to make his move, before playing it onto his left boot to perfection for four-nil.
There would be a stoppage and some recriminations on the kick-off, as the hosts' Zhuang Ze Ze scythed straight into Egemen Dinçer Ferzan
, as the Turkish winger waited for the ball to come his way. That Zhuang got the ball too, if barely, probably saved him a direct red, but it was curtains for Ferzan either way, as Prokop Mottl
made an unplanned entrance.
The second half saw Gandhik Chitre
turn up the temperature with a number of lung-bursting sprints from midfield, which caused LAVINO's backline no end of problems. That had Ling Quanjing unable to catch up in the 55th minute, to which Chitre took it close to Tan, before cheekily chipping it around the goalie. Reece was in the mood too as he rose for a header unhindered with the defence left watching, and Chitre might have gotten another in the 59th, had he simply been more conservative with his lob.
Six was enough of a margin to have Tian Yonghang
use his remaining substitutions to put Radovan Jaška
and Mohsen El Khateeb
on at the back, only to have Mohsen last less than six minutes, before jarring his right shoulder on an ill-advised direct charge against Du Haiqiang. That said, Mohsen was willing enough to try and continue, but Tian saw no reason to risk further injury in an already-won match, and ordered the youngster to stay off.
The big question was whether Chan or Reece - or both - would complete a hat-trick, and Reece had the first big crack as he finally emerged from under Ang Hock Boon's cloying presence with ten minutes remaining, only to see Tan whip up an inspired flying save. On the contrary, it was Rushanizam bin Mohd Zain to get one back for LAVINO in the 84th, and his stylish dribble and neat finish past Dimitris Germanakos
drew by far the loudest response of the day.
That reducer pumped the LAVINO players right back up, and they would push hard for a second, with Wong Yeow Kum booked for illegally grabbing Paulino Trindade
in his eagerness to win the ball back. That would prove their loss - and Chan Ze Han
's gain, as Trindade's quick free-kick take found its way to the Number Eleven, who duly slid it between Tan's legs. Added time had Liang Xuanhua presented with another good look from Ling Quanjing's inventive work, but Liang was again too slow on the uptake.