Chow Chow And Away
The unexpected happened as Grilled dealt leaders Siegmund United their first defeat in the league since opening day, with the drama of the pulsating end to the first half surpassed by Chow Ying Lee
's feats towards the end of the second, which sealed a famous and very useful win for the Birds.
Eight goals were certainly not on the menu when the teamsheets were announced, with Siegmund introducing newly-recruited wingbacks Laurent Crespin and Andreu Amengual, who made their debuts on either side of a five-man defence. If Grilled were hoping to take advantage of the departure of Olivier Boursier and Aleš Hruša a fortnight ago, they were to be disappointed.
As if that were not enough, Siegmund strung five across midfield too, pinning their strategy on counter wing attacks from the raring-to-go Feddo Heersema and Glen Abernathy - which had worked against Grilled often enough. There were few surprises on Grilled's part, as lu Zunwen
made his return alongside Qassem Madaini
, while Alex Fonseca
was shifted back, and defenders Jungui and Ross not in the starting eleven.
Siegmund, who had been steamrolling teams for a month, had an uncharacteristically hesitant look about them as their new wingbacks weren't quite on the same wavelength as the wingers, which was fortunate for the Birds, who were shaky down the flanks as usual. The rain helped nobody but the defenders, who had an easy time of it with the slow pace.
A dull draw looked more and more likely up till the 35th minute, when the previously anonymous Tian Yonghang
slipped through the middle to slam a shot past Ken Nakamura, a development so unexpected that it jolted the stadium awake.
All the pent-up action began to pour out, and Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
should well have made it two after Amengual got his feet tangled up trying to work the way out of the box, but he couldn't get enough behind the ball. Siegmund then had their moments, with former U-20 defender Ding Jingnan pushing Dexter Stacey
to his limits with a sharp try after a counter, and the American Glen Abernathy finished the job after some weaving about.
The spectators who had gone for an early break would regret their decision dearly, as Tian and Abernathy were far from done. With just three minutes to go, Tian headed a corner stylishly on for Abdul bin Jantan
to piledrive home, though it could be debated whether he meant that. Not to be outdone, Abernathy dove at a cross from Heersema to make it all level for half-time.
There were much more of a buzz surrounding the second half of the game as Grilled kicked off, but again the match took its time to come to a boil. Fifteen minutes passed before Grilled managed to assemble a promising-looking move with Seytek Djekshenkulov
finding space wide left, and Tian Yonghang
obligingly swiped the cross in for 3-2.
This was the signal for changes on both sides, with Qassem Madaini
off for Lin Jungui
. Shiya Shaahee
, who must be sympathised with after yet another hardworking shift ended prizeless for him, was shortly after withdrawn for Paolo Iten
to take over free-kick duties, while Siegmund's substitution was forced by Alfredo Ponce's injury, leaving 20 year-old hopeful Balachander Balgurusamy to pick up the slack.
With the two sides under new leadership, Grilled looked to have the edge, but Zhu Changchun
missed an absolute sitter in the 68th minute and would shortly have cause to regret it - Andreu Amengual more than made up for his earlier indiscretions with a sizzling drive off Heersema's industry down the right to tie things up.
The home fans were really up for it as yet another comeback victory seemed a distinct possibility, especially with Mohd Safri losing his cool and picking up a yellow. However, Grilled's composure held up, and they gave Siegmund a taste of their own medicine, with Chow Ying Lee
keeping up with Iten on a breakaway to put the Birds ahead yet again in the 82nd minute.
The match was still very much in the air with Siegmund waiting patiently for their chance on the ground they know best, but it was not to be for them, as Chow's electric pace was finally unleashed in the 87th minute as the rain came to a stop, and he easily outran Balgurusamy to make it 5-3.