Sky's The Limit
Young Turks Prevail
The Birds held off a second-half resurgence by second-placed newbies are newbies to secure the crucial sixth spot, and they had their collection of blossoming forwards to thank for the massive derby victory. Former U-20 partners Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
and Chow Ying Lee
both met expectations with well-taken strikes, but the limelight belonged to homegrown Tian Yonghang
, who had a leg in both their goals.
Up against a very solid opponent with championship aspirations, and needing nothing less than a win, Grilled bet their fate on a sharp counterattacking strategy and sacrificed Kyrgyz star Seytek Djekshenkulov
for the additional defensive heft of Slavcho Tzonkov
, who made his first appearance since the win against Arrogancae at rightback.
newbies, who were bidding to reach the top flight for the first time in 31 seasons, concentrated their efforts on the wings, a known weakness of this Grilled team. They have yet to win a Division Two league, despite this being their twentieth season at that level, and a failure to beat Grilled would almost certainly land them an agonizing eighth appearance as bridesmaid.
They were not about to pull any punches either, with U-20 winger Yue Haoping on the left and former academy wonderkid Zhang Ruotian on the right, not to mention the crazily experienced strike tandem of Ge Hanjin and Roshadi bin Che Rusli, who have represented the nation for a combined 123 times at all levels. With Isa Ansori bin Saiban bringing it all together, it was debatable whether this famously win-shy Grilled side could outdo themselves.
knew what he was up against, and a magical move in the second minute that saw him go past a bewildered opponent by bouncing the ball off his shoulder set the tone for what was to come. None of the defenders quite knew what to make of the fearless 21 year-old who kept running at them from deep, and this hesitation proved fatal in the 26th minute as Chow Ying Lee
zipped into an open lane and selflessly supplied Tian, who snapped up the chance.
Before that, the day had gotten off to a good start for the Birds, with the scoreboard showing that CCP had gone up against Changi Genius through Yap Ho Guang in the 5th minute, while heimu XI's Safri bin Mustapa followed suit against Batavia Cavaliers in the 10th; these pleasant times were not to last, though, and the tension returned as Vasco Cesário and Yu Jingyi equalised for their respective teams just before Tian scored.
Grilled's worst fears were realised as Yue Haoping would do the same for newbies, as his balance won out against a rusty Tzonkov. As the half-hour mark passed, all three relegation-threatened sides were still finely poised, with a single goal enough to see them move clear of the rest - or fall hopelessly behind.
This state of nervousness hanging over The Cooking Pot was not helped by Paolo Iten
's bad miss from a promising free-kick 35 minutes in, with Roshadi bin Che Rusli booked for a crude tackle in the build-up. The national legend caused a number of hearts to skip a beat when he appeared to have found the net a minute later, but it transpired that his powerful effort had bounded back into the netting off the advertising hoardings.
's midweek scouting of Mohd Sofi bin Nan then proved its value many times over, as Mohd Safri exploited the defender's weaker side to cut in and crash an unstoppable drive past former Pudgy Penguins and jafjfqaoi goalie Wang You De. Despite the Birds being on the ropes, Chow Ying Lee
repeated the trick against an overly-wary Mohd Sofi three minutes later, streaking past to get on Tian's ball forward and slotting home for 3-1.
The supporters, who had been expecting the worst, were ecstatic at this juncture, and they would have yet more to celebrate as Tzonkov converted off a corner, after an intelligent knockdown by Chow to the unmarked defender who had taken a shooting pose out wide. The visiting fans were in contrast shellshocked, unable to register how they were three goals behind despite dominating the half.
Han was not about to look the gift horse in the mouth, and pulled Paolo Iten
for an additional body in defence in the form of Walter Ross
, figuring that three was about as safe a cushion as Grilled were going to get. This was an understandable tactic given how dangerously the Birds had lived at times in the first forty-five minutes, while newbies shook things up by having their players swop their positions, with the wingers in particular troublesome for Grilled's fullbacks.
With the Birds clear about their objectives - defending for dear life - even the exquisite skills of newbies' attackers were unable to find a purchase, and it looked as if the match was beyond their reach when defender Zhang Kanghang's goalbound effort was poked clear by Dexter Stacey
using his foot, despite Grilled's defenders being completely out of position then.
It appeared to be all going perfectly for the Birds, with Batavia and Changi both falling further behind to early second-half goals, but there was a scare in the 77th minute as Mohd Akmal Hizam bin Ismail levelled for Changi, while Ge Hanjin pulled one back for newbies at almost the same instant. Grilled fans breathed more easily after Manfredo Noriega struck for CCP in the very next minute, to keep Changi three points behind.
The Birds might have done well to concentrate on their own game, since a win would make results elsewhere irrelevant, but as it was a general loss of stamina as the match reached its conclusion gave the determined visitors too many openings. The wiry Roshadi was too good to pass over many of those, and he bagged his eleventh league goal of the campaign with a placed effort in the 83rd minute.
Batavia might have been given renewed hope by this news at the Pacific Place, where their spirited last stand brought an 87th minute leveller through Ingo Maase. Sadly for them, it would not nearly be enough as a frenzied last push brought nothing more than two yellow cards, while Changi too had nothing left against Cup semifinalists CCP. It wouldn't have mattered, though, as Grilled saw out their epic victory with relative ease.