New Ace On The Field
Tian All Grown
Grilled prevailed in the must-win home leg of the Olde West Derby in a classic that was dominated by two young names, Peter Haley and Tian Yonghang
. It took the visiting newbies going down to ten men for the Birds to sustain the upper hand over them, but such as Tian's brillance on the day that it was hard to tell if it would still end up the same way.
Despite Shiya Shaahee
's rich vein of form, Niculae Stanca
went the safe route of crowding midfield, returning lu Zunwen
to the centre and sticking Zhu Changchun
wide for a change. newbies started a similar side to the one that beat Grilled 5-4 three weeks ago, but exhibited caution by pulling Zhang Ruotian into wingback and leaving Giulio Bollini out in adopting a 3-5-2 formation. Aspiring 19 year-old midfield Daniel Quong made his fifth league start of the season, filling in at left wing.
Quong however made sure that the sixth would not be forthcoming too soon as he brushed past Chow Ying Lee
slightly too provocatively for the referee's liking, earning him his third booking of the season. The crowd expressed their support for the decision vocally, and this segued into all-out cheers when Tian took advantage of an unfortunate slip by Zhang to enter the box and pick up where he left off against Javier Caamaño.
With rain being the usual for the past month, at least some of the players have acclimatized, lu being one of them. He strode around as if on dry ground, and astounded not a few simply by standing his ground when challenged from the back in the 22nd minute. The advantage was played as even the newbies defenders expected the game to be stopped, and lu sliced a pass through for Tian to slip it just by Caamaño for 2-0.
newbies struggled hard to get a foothold, but there wasn't too much sympathy going around yet when Juha Hatara tripped over a clod of mud while leading a charge. They did reduce Grilled's lead in the 31st minute, when a flash of genius by Yue Haoping got the ball to Ante Skrjanc while stealing the attention of the Birds' backline. Skrjanc volleyed without hesitation, and Edmund Kryus
leaped backwards to no avail as Skrjanc hit the target squarely.
Zhang was still a force to be reckoned with from rightback, and he displayed his wing skills by switching flanks and rounding Ling Fuquan
almost too easily, as newbies executed what looked like a planned move from kickoff. Kryus would not be beaten again so soon, though, and he flailed his legs to deflect the shot after going the wrong way.
While matches between the two have seldom been accused of being dull, this one was setting up to be a real cracker, with young captain Peter Haley flirting with disaster after taking Woon Shun An
down with both feet in the air at one point. Referee Yin Kuopeng deliberated, but eventually let Haley off with a yellow, his decision helped by Woon picking himself up in a jiffy.
Grilled would get their reward at the other end, Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
plugging a simple finish in from Tian's unselfish pass. They should have finished the first half with four, as Qassem Madaini
's wickedly-bending free-kick drifted back in after apparently being badly mishit, but it eventually landed just behind the crossbar, to Caamaño's relief.
newbies were not leading the league for nothing, though, and their steel became evident on the restart. They were both far tighter in the back, and more inventive going forward, and few were surprised when the omnipresent Peter Haley leapt majestically to power in a header from a perfect Quong cross.
The contrast with Mohd Safri's miss in the 66th minute was evident, with the club icon a shadow of himself at his best, when Haley equalised from another cross from the left as Ling found it impossible to cope with the combination of Quong and Hatara. However, the ebullient Haley went on to strip off his jersey and whirl it at the away section without thinking, and the muted response only sunk in when the referee walked slowly up.
Only now aware that he was already on a yellow, Haley, still bare-topped, tried to persuade the match officials, but the man in charge had no discretion in the matter, and shook his head while scribbing on the back of his yellow card. The young skipper then lost his cool, and had to be led firmly away by Huang Kangyan before he did anything that he would later regret.
It was perhaps a blessing that Haley was deep inside the tunnel when Grilled went ahead again through some wonderful balance by Tian, and this was the way it stayed until the star of the day could claim the match ball.