Pompeo Provides Spark
The importance of timely substitutes was emphasized in this tricky second-round Cup tie, with Grilled's jitters only really subsiding after the late introduction of Italian striker Pompeo Bellamoli
gave the Birds that little extra against an obdurate Parkway Paladins outfit. The Paladins, a local affiliate of German Division Four club FC Telok Kurau, might otherwise have pulled off an incredible shock, given how profilgate the Birds were in the initial exchanges.
The five-season old Paladins have been building around their 19 year-old wonderkid Mak Tek Jian, already capped six times for the national U-20 side as a wide player, but who is quite capable of filling in anywhere as needed. For today, Mak started in the heart of central midfield, with Parkway Toddlers partners Ang Hock Qiang instead ordered to take on offensive duties down the left flank.
A still-developing Mak alone was of course not enough for the hosts to get by against Grilled, who however made it difficult for themselves with a spate of sloppy finishes within the first half-hour. They could have well been three up at least, if not for that, and some top-drawer goalkeeping from German lad Frieder Kastenberger.
Kastenberger was first tested in the seventh minute, when Gene Filippone
stepped over a free-kick for Ling Fuquan
to blast it from the opposite direction. He somehow reacted to that in time despite the wall blocking his view, but Rashid bin Ahmad
should still have deposited the return into an empty net. The defender sliced it pathetically though, which was a huge letoff.
Mohd Safri tried but failed to add to his impressive recent haul, as he released some wild ones that troubled only inattentive spectators. The next serious effort would come only in the 26th minute, when Leong Wan Kang
tried to squeeze it in at the near post. Kastenberger again stopped it, but had to take a time-out after complaining of shortness of breath from being hit in the chest.
This impediment might have allowed Tian Yonghang
to finally get the better of him, through a fine clipped finish down the right. All things considered, though, being only one down was a positive for the home team, who saved another goal thanks to a sacrificial foul from Chow Nie Lai, who tugged Chow Ying Lee
back before he could get clear.
Being used to getting in the clear early at this stage of the Cup, the travelling Grilled supporters were visibly nervous as chance after chance went a-begging as the second half dragged on. More incredible goaltending from Kastenberger accounted for much of that, as when he flicked aside what was about as certain a goal as it gets from Leong in the 50th minute, but the Birds' lone striker experiment probably contributed.
By the 65th minute, it was apparent that this was not a position where Leong excelled; reserve coach Luis Alcántara had seen enough, and took him off for Pompeo Bellamoli
, who took to the role as eagerly as his predecessor had struggled. Within minutes, Bellamoli had forced a corner, which Colby Awyong
scrambled in messily to the Grilled fans' relief.
It certainly went to Awyong's head as he wasted a good buildup by going for it from nearly forty metres, but the supporters were understandably in a forgiving mood. Chow then came close, before Kastenberger made his first error of the match, not moving as Filippone lofted an eminently saveable free-kick over his wall.
Although Bellamoli hadn't played a direct role in that, his influence over the game was obvious, which he made crystal clear by slipping it through delightfully for Rashid in the 79th minute. Even Rashid couldn't miss this time, and the brave Paladins would at last have to acknowledge their defeat.