Looking Like Newbs
Full of confidence going into the 15th Old West Derby, the Birds wound up sitting in class, as newbies are newbies raised huge questions about their entire defensive unit. Giulio Bollini continued looking unstoppable as he extended his scoring streak, but nemesis of the day was captain Zhang Ruotian, who other than providing indefatigable leadership, rocked The Cooking Pot with a brace in his tenth appearance in this fixture.
Grilled had no excuses as they took to the pitch with a full side, abandoning the experimental XI with which they had taken on the Spartans. However, newbies were no slouches either, as their perfect record coming into the game indicated, and they put all their chips in the basket with a do-or-die attacking 2-5-3 too.
The two teams certainly knew each other well, having shared the same league for six seasons already, and have been pretty well matched going by the slight eight-to-five advantage in wins held by the Birds going into the game. However, something appeared a little off today, as it was the newbies who got the better of most of the bounces early on.
While Niculae Stanca
has come to trust Shiya Shaahee
's supply of width on the right, newbies kept faith with the all-through-the-middle approach, and it proved to be the right one against Grilled, who might have been expecting the visitors to be slightly more reserved. Eleven minutes had passed when Zhang Ruotian seized upon a bit of hesistancy from the usually unflappable Zhao Jing Wei
to slip the ball between his legs and dash on, which brought him all the way to Edmund Kryus
, whom he then chipped calmly.
The script continued to unravel as Huang Kangyan got gifted a second from nowhere, after Kryus decided to fling it short after considering a punt kick. Unfortunately, he hadn't made sure that Ling Fuquan
, who had his back turned, would be expecting it. Huang was, however, and although the horrified goalkeeper realised it as soon as the ball left his hands, it was already too late.
The stony silence from the stands said it all, and it was all the Birds could do to play short percentage passes while they tried to figure out their next step. Just as well, as this blunted newbies' edge somewhat, and Chow Ying Lee
clawed one back through a fine run slashing in from the left, with Abdul bin Jantan
in close support.
This restored voice to the fans, and for a moment there Grilled looked like turning it all around. They were absolutely tearing it up for a few minutes, and on one of those attacks a charging Ling nearly equalised with a thunderbolt that dodged Caamaño but buzzed inches over the crossbar.
It was then back to the same mishaps, as the Birds' aura faded once newbies continued piling on the pressure. Ling had been extremely effective pressing up, but this became fatal in the 37th minute when Woon Shun An
, who had been covering for him, jumped in too early on Giulio Bollini. The forward of the season thus far evaded with a simple sidestep, and calmly restored newbies' two-goal advantage.
Worse, Ling fared no better as he was slow to track back right after the restart, and Zhang plundered his second to send the home support into glum resignation.
Grilled have recovered from three down quite a few times before, but they made it even harder for themselves as newbies got a fifth four minutes into the second half. At least there was no mistake to be pointed out this time, just some inventive passing from newbies, completed with a neat strike from the steadily-improving Raja Sahu.
His team being this far behind, Tian Yonghang
was noticeably subdued when he managed to spin and nick in a goal that would likely have sparked off wild celebrations in most other circumstances. Instead, all the Number Sixteen was thinking of was getting the ball back to the centre circle as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, the Birds' exploits would come to nothing, as they created a few openings but little more. Their day was summed up when Qassem Madaini
bent a near-perfect free-kick at newbies' top corner in the 82nd minute, only for Caamaño to punch it just over. They were nearly even sucker-punched by Daniel Quong after that, and would have been had the defender not overhit his lob over the forlorn-looking Kryus.