|Season 57||L||2 - 4||League|
|Season 57||L||5 - 0||Tournament (Playoffs)|
|Season 55||L||3 - 4||Tournament (Group Phase)|
|Season 51||W||3 - 0||Tournament (Group Phase)|
|Season 50||D||2 - 2||Tournament (Group Phase)|
A Special Reversal
The Birds got a perfect prelude to their cup final by upsetting Be Champions FC 4-2 at a near-capacity The Special Place today, the first home league defeat that the hosts had suffered since the beginning of last season.
Again, the lineup was chosen with midweek in mind - Zhao Jing Wei
, Gene Filippone
and Low Aik Jia
were again out of it, being on two yellows, though Chow Ying Lee
was risked. Be Champions FC for their part repeated the 4-5-1 that had put them in such good stead at The Cooking Pot earlier in the month, though with national playmaker Foo Ah De and Hungarian winger Dávid Budai missing out through injury.
It was a minor yet very significant difference, as Swiss striker Nic Zuberbühler, standing in for Foo in midfield, found. While there are few around with the overall game sense that Zuberbühler has, the slight imbalance that came with his prospenity to stay up took its toll, all the more against a Grilled team that were coming off a morale-boosting 5-0 win over Pearl Divers.
Despite unofficially being regarded by fans as a "fifth tire
" behind Grilled's four local regular midfielders, Frenchman Clément Meyer
has reinvented himself as an option in defence, and his quiet toil has brought him more appearances than his more-popular colleagues this term. Understandably, his scoring output has not quite kept up, but as he showed with his crisp finish in the eleventh minute, there was never much wrong with it.
Going behind, or even conceding, was not what the home support was used to, but they could do little as their side fumbled at imposing themselves. Feng Shifang attempted to act as an advanced sweeper as the Birds piled forward, but to limited effect as Zhu Changchun
squeezed one inches wide from all of twenty-five metres just two minutes later.
Charismatic Finnish head coach Harri Lindroos, who had just played himself in a friendly to make a point, was not impressed by what he was seeing, and called de facto outfield leader Arnold Pang over for a word. This had an effect, and Be Champions FC were beginning to cause worries... only for Chow Ying Lee
to confirm his position atop the league scoring chart with a neat pinpoint drive slicing past former Guatemalan national goalie Edmundo Ortega.
This being the first time that they had let in more than one at home all season, the hosts weren't quite sure how to react. What was certain was that they had to score - at least twice, and prefably more - and they did have the personnel to make that happen. Grilled were not slowing down, however, and they would be hard pressed to find an opening, until Ling Fuquan
clumsily brought Ali Ütkün down in the 43rd minute.
The Grilled defence committed the mortal sin of not playing to the whistle after seeing referee Leif Eriksen jog over, and the alert Pang continued the move by running onto the now-ignored ball. Wong Tian Han
couldn't faze him alone, and Ling would be booked anyway after the goal had been recorded.
It was telling that a 2-1 lead was considered a mildly disappointing end to the first half by the Birds' bench, as Djan Bacelar
made clear with his barely disguised rage as his players came off. Properly chastened, they were fully focused after the restart, and dismayed the home fans by again taking control.
Seven minutes in, Grilled would restore their two-goal cushion. Without Low, they were slightly predictable in attack, but Lee Lee Hao
's direct and largely undisguised approach would prove hard to handle too. Agasthya Vaidhyanathan did well to put a stop to Lee's straight-ahead run, but not before Lee had offloaded it to Woon Shun An
, who exceeded all expectations with his incredibly accurate backspinning chip, on his hundredth league start for Grilled.
This was a stake to the heart of the home fans, who had been expecting their team to take over in the second half. They would be encouraged as Pang held it together after that third goal, and indeed they began to take on the look of title favourites with their calmness in possession. However, with the deficit still hanging over them, this alone would not be enough.
Their grand plan would come good in the 72nd minute, when Benoît Pouderoux outpaced countryman Meyer on the left, after Zhu Changchun
had gone missing. This was just what the visiting fans feared, and just as predicted, Ali Ütkün tied up Grilled's centrebacks long enough for Moldovan international Dorin Bejan to shore up the attack. Bejan's left foot was faultless, and Wong Tian Han
went at full stretch in vain.
Be Champions FC could smell a comeback now, with the momentum now firmly on their side and with twenty minutes still to go, but one man was yet to have his say. Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
had never been a neutral's favourite no thanks to his uninhibited nature, which was moreover not usually backed up with the comedic grandiosity that had made similar characters more bearable.
What even his critics cannot contest is his pure effectiveness in front of goal, which was evident last Friday as he bagged two against Cape Verde despite playing only one half. Quite ironically, it was Be Champions FC's Foo who assisted him for the second of those, and the cameras meaningfully cut to the latter's glum reaction in the VIP box after Mohd Safri flipped Wong Ping Shun
's cross past Ortega in the 79th.
It was not a very technical or even aesthetic strike, but simply the bread and butter that strikers and clubs thrive on, and in this case it stopped the hosts' nascent revival dead. The Birds would traverse the remaining ten minutes without too much drama, with former Saudi captain Qassem Madaini
getting five of them in place of Rashid bin Ahmad