Four For Marty
In a game the quality the likes of not usually seen before the quarter-final stage, both Western sides saiNts Utd and Grilled Birds served up a treat of combative yet technical midfield battles. A certain Swede made all the difference, though, and his name - no surprise - was Ola Martinsson
Langeland had been slated to play before his untimely suspension, but for Ulf Hjortlind
it was an opportunity not to be missed. Once Grilled's star striker, the 24 year-old had been stewing on the bench since Langeland arrived, and had missed Grilled's last nineteen competitive matches.
His Cup pedigree remains unquestioned, with 41 goals thus far, and he brought a much-needed sense of urgency into a slightly complacent starting eleven. Kek-Tjiang was a total revelation at full back, with Liehner absent as he was scheduled for a coaching exam later in the day.
saiNts Utd had clearly set their eyes on a huge Cup run, having mixed rather indifferent league performances in Division Three with exemplary Cup results. In fact, they had gotten twenty-five goals without reply in the first five rounds. Martinsson was to put a stop to that, and soon.
saiNts James Park was bursting at the seams with an auspicious 80008 fans thronging the gallery, a sizeable number from the away side, who were located just a few kilometres away. Lee Jie Siong
looked rather lost in the cauldron, but made a point not to give the ball away cheaply, a simple fact that more experienced men often neglect.
Grilled punctured Ahmad Shahrul Azhar's proud clean sheet with only ten minutes on the clock, the product of some never-say-die running from Hjortlind. His challenge on Chun Kang was borderline non-permissible, but the referee held his whistle in check and Martinsson had all the opening he needed from Hjortlind's unselfish pass.
Homegrown ex-U20 playmaker Lü Nam-Quoc saw that far more steel was needed, and led the way with a powerful two-footed slide in on Dani Spirig
. It was a second too late, which saw Lü in the referee's book. More discouragingly, his hard pass to a defender could not be controlled and Martinsson pounced. With the tip of his boots, Martinsson sent the ball past the rushing goalie.
Grilled's faithful had a sinking feeling when 33 year-old defender Jörgen Falkbo
sat down clutching his shin after half an hour, as he had been an important cornerstone of Grilled's defence since his debut. Their worst fears were realised when Weng Seng-Huat
had to come on, but at least Falkbo hopped off by himself.
The drop ball was returned far into Grilled's half, but the visitors showed scant gratitude by immediately booting it back up where Siu-Yue was. The impressive midfielder dallied a bit before darting in and feeding Ulf Hjortlind
, who kept his cool to lift the ball over an increasingly disillusioned Ahmad Shahrul Azhar.
A fourth was on the cards as Stanton went to ground just inside the penalty area. Terkel Borup
looked hopefully at Martinsson, who gave him a little smile and claimed the penalty for his own. Perhaps he wanted to get back in the groove after missing one in the last Cup game, and this time he buried it high as the keeper went the other way.
With their progress in the Cup hanging by a thread, Nam-Quoc and company attacked from the kick-off for the second half. Another ex U-20 player, formerly of ChamPzz and Brazillian Division Three side Discípulos do Sr. Miagui, rose to the challenge. Looi Da Li was playing only his second game for his new team, but already had his own cheer extolling his silky samba-like skills.
It was not any kind of flair that won Looi his first goal for saiNts, but an English header which flew straight and true into the middle of the net as Harlow guarded the near post. Brought in to form a partnership with fellow U-20 alumni Li Qiang Pin, he continued by gifting Li a sitter that the ex-Chemistry striker hit too high.
Spirig got carded in the 77th minute as he retaliated after being on the receiving end of some pushing, and from the free-kick Lee Wee Sze pulled the ball back to rightback Pang Kok Wen, who drifted past several players before slotting a calm knee-high shot past Harlow.
Grilled still had two goals of insurance despite all that effort, and Martinsson deflated saiNts with a lucky free-kick from a non-threatening position. It dropped rapidly as the goalie tried to decide whether or not it would fly harmlessly by, and in the end he could only catch the ball after it had crossed the line. Nam-Quoc slumped forward when he saw that, as though he knew that their march had come to its conclusion that minute.