One Triple Effort
Grilled Birds survived Lee Lee Hao
's unacceptable 12th minute dismissal, to shatter Division Three opponents Oneteamtoplay's nine-match winning streak in all competitions. Chow Ying Lee
has been the Birds' last resort in the Cup thus far, and he again delved deep within himself to produce an excellent hat-trick despite the numerical disadvantage.
The Serangoon III.1 leaders, who have gone a perfect four from four in the league, including a show-stopping 5-4 cliffhanger over the weekend against Kang Xi Lai Le, arrived at HitMen Arena in fine spirits. Tall Swedish captain Per Gröönerberg led the team out to much fanfare, though dashing local starlet Eng Aik Seng was kept on the bench.
Grilled for their part handed Ang Leong Kum
his debut barely a day after his official signing, placing him in between fellow new-generation midfielders Hariharan Prabhu
and Clark Won
. Rinor Isufi
moved out to the right wing, with want-away Woon Shun An
an apparently whimsical pick at the back.
Oneteamtoplay could be forgiven for thinking that the Birds were there for the taking, after some of the most disastrous outcomes in their history, but they would be the ones to be driven back in the opening exchanges. Isufi was very useful on the flanks once he got to face the big but slow-turning Azizi Ishak on his own, and Chow Ying Lee
didn't wait to snap at the chance.
An early lead under their belt, Grilled regained some of their old mojo, and there were moments in which their opponents looked extremely worried indeed. However, Oneteamtoplay would soon be thrown a timely lifeline, after former youth trainee Lee Jie Huat made it a point to step over Lee Lee Hao
, after the two got tangled up near the touchline.
This cheeky bit of one-upsmanship was not taken well by the elder Lee at all, who was sufficiently enraged to grab Jie Huat's ankle, and bring him to the ground. Players from both sides were onto them in seconds, before it could develop into anything more serious. Still, it would be Lee Lee Hao
's last act of the game, as referee Jan Faber sent him off after a long consultation with linesman Vito D'Avack.
This killed off Grilled's advantage wholesale, and Oneteamtoplay would finally get the breather they were after. Gröönerberg's push for his teammates to attack would not yield much, however, as Ang Leong Kum
amply demonstrated his value with several spot-on tackles - Djan Bacelar
evidently hadn't been playing the newcomer up, when he mentioned that he was probably the Birds' best defensive midfielder coming in.
Ang and company kept the status quo going until half-time, and it was not clear which team were more eager to rest and regroup. It was certain that Chow had not cooled down at all, at least, when he loped past centreback Eguzki Estartaetxe to beat Finnish goalie Jari Kaskela for the second time.
Grilled were far from safe yet, as their man disadvantage gave Lee Jie Huat and Khaw Chao Chu more width to exploit than they should have had. However, Wong Tian Han
was close to his best, and a reflex stop from Sławomir Link in the 69th minute saw Ling Fuquan
hack it the length of the pitch. Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
had the presence of mind to knock it in Clark Won
's direction, and Grilled's Number 26 appreciated the favour with a calm finish across Kaskela.
Oneteamtoplay's supporters, who had begun the day so optimistically, were finally silenced by that one, and the players didn't fare much better. More spaces opened up, and although Khaw knocked Rinor Isufi
off the ball in the 79th minute, the Albanian had gotten his pass off. Hariharan Prabhu
centered it back in, and as luck would have it, right to the better foot of Ling Fuquan
, who struck without mercy.
They did get their farewell gift in return, with Ling still jogging back when Lee broke down the right flank. Woon Shun An
got across to try and limit the damage, but the rest of Oneteamtoplay's forward line and midfield were flooding in by then. Eventually, the ball bounced free to Iván Pastor Marra, who finally spoilt Wong Tian Han
's clean sheet with a placed shot.
Chow would then confirm himself as the story of the day with his hat-trick goal, dashing by poor Estartaetxe again, before a slightly less-stressed Bacelar took Woon Shun An
and Rinor Isufi
off for Gene Filippone
and Wong Ping Shun
, to while away the final moments. The opponents didn't much mind that.