Top For Once
Leong Earns Spurs
Grilled entered unfamiliar territory, as they claimed top spot in a Division Two league for the first time in 25 seasons, corresponding with their first stint in II.2. They had to do it the hard way against stout opposition from Siegmund United in their own den. Still, when all was said and done, the Birds had achieved 12 out of 12 points for only the second time in their long history.
The hosts had not gotten off on the right foot, having being narrowly beaten by Rapala FC and heimu XI after a high-scoring opening day draw with CharlesCheesePie, but they were not about to abandon their safety first mantra, stringing five defenders across the back, marshalled by skipper Alfredo Ponce. Behind him stood current national goalie Mohd Azmani bin Hasyim, freshly returned from a 2-1 win against the Philippines two days ago.
On the visitors' side, Woon Shun An
was a late addition, having healed his thigh injury more quickly than expected, while Seytek Djekshenkulov
and Zhu Changchun
switched their usual positions, and the defenders spread more than usual. Otherwise, it was about the strongest side that the Birds could put out.
Not for long though, as not long after Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
winged it across goal in the second minute, Tian Yonghang
had his left knee crumple under him while contorting himself to control a wayward pass. Niculae Stanca
allowed the club medic to work on the unlucky fellow for five minutes off the pitch, before deciding to let greenhorn Leong Wan Kang
come on for him permanently.
While this was not the first time Leong had replaced Tian, it was in the 88th minute against JUtd the previous go, and there was still the entire game ahead of the youngster this time. Leong was undaunted, however, and what he lacked in quality he laboured to compensate with ceaseless running.
This did have a short-lived effect on Siegmund's backline as they considered how best to deal with this unknown quantity, and Grilled had several half-chances in this period. Probably the best of them went to Chow Ying Lee
, from Leong scuffing it wide for him to take a crack, but it would take more than that to beat an on-form Mohd Azmani.
The more-than-that would eventually come in the shape of a fired-up Lin Jungui
, who was apparently out to repay Stanca's faith in him. Lin had started despite being sent off irresponsibly against Phantasm last weekend, and he was not about to pass up Zhu Changchun
's well-worked centering of the ball.
One breach led to another, and the previously invincible-looking Siegmund defence suddenly looked a whole lot more vulnerable after being punctured once. Three minutes later, Mohd Azmani did excellently to block a stinging bolt to the near post by Mohd Safri, but Chow's mind proved as quick as his feet as he leapt at the rebound to deflect it into the net.
Some home fans were visibly discouraged at this development, especially given that their strikers had not had much of a bite at all, but they would be given new heart by Dutch withdrawn forward Leo Simons. With three under his belt already, Simons showed how he had almost single-handedly kept his side's hopes alive in the past few league games by ghosting past Qassem Madaini
on a counterattack before finishing slickly.
Leo kept up his threat level into the second half, and the spectators could only wonder how their team was not level, after he earned himself two wonderful opportunities either side of the hour mark. The first shot went barely a foot wide of the far post, and the second was well on target, only for Jungui to barely prevent it from going in, sliding across the goalline.
Mohd Safri was more clinical at the other end, as he gave the Birds a two-goal cushion, once again thanks to Zhu Changchun
enjoying a renaissance down the left side. Despite not being known for his ability out wide, Zhu was surprisingly difficult to handle, and he got his second assist of the day with a sharp if simple cross-pass.
Siegmund would not go easily, though, and after a brave block by Glen Abernathy that left the midfielder winded, former U-20 defender Ding Jingnan made the final seventeen minutes very interesting with a flashy volley that gave Dexter Stacey
no chance. Grilled were content with maintaining possession after that, and successfully made it eight victories in succession.