Slow And Steady
Moey Takes Charge
Grilled achieved what they set out to in adverse conditions at ReducedToRubble, garnering full points against a motivated -Blitz- side up to avenging last week's flat loss before their own fans. Despite the heavy rain, over forty thousand souls paid to watch them try, and while -Blitz- would fall short again, they certainly ran the Birds closer this time round.
Their support were arguably more interested in snagging their first national-level trophy, with -Blitz- having narrowly seen Arrogancae off in the Singapore Consolation Cup semis midweek, setting up a final against Mia San Toa Payoh. Romanian striker George-Cosmin Tudorache had been a revelation for them in that game under a similar setting, and he would force a memorable 79th minute winner, bullying Keisuke Sugiki out of position.
This was something that Grilled would have to deal with today too, as -Blitz- adopted a more attacking 3-5-2, having utility man Rafał Komisarek help Tudorache out up top. Not that Tudorache needed too much of that, as he pushed Yuki Irie
to his limits, in the initial jostle. Quick advances were hard to come by on the soft ground, as Ricardo Rey discovered several times to his chagrin, most notably in having his boot come off after overcoming Neeraj Muthyala
in the 14th minute.
The match was paused to allow Rey to retrieve his stuck shoe - and change his socks. -Blitz- made the most of the reboot, and after an equally abortive run by Florus Romijn
, the eager Ant Kearney beat a straight path to the right edge of Grilled's penalty area. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
failed to get in the way of the cross, and Tudorache executed a breathtaking volley in off the bottom of the crossbar.
It was a barnstormer for the home team, and the fans were bouncing as one, after that outstanding strike. Grilled were getting overrun, but thankfully not for too long, as Yuta Nakakita
gradually re-imposed order in the middle. The ethnic Japanese holding midfielder would prove to have a good head for goal too, and he equalised just after the half-hour mark, dashing onto Islom Davlatov
's cute little chip upwards.
There was otherwise not much in the way of highlights for the half, with the terrain a constant obstacle to anything more than kick-and-pray football. That considered, the game was largely civilized, with German trainee Leif Bunyai accepting his booking for tripping Cyril Künzler
with good grace. Muthyala could hardly contest his yellow either, after quite opening wiping goalie Antonio Hernalsteen out.
The final few minutes of the half brought some amazing workmanship from Chan Ze Han
, who definitely could not be kept from the limelight for long. Taking his time with his back to goal, he proceeded to pivot past Max Orendi with a delicious drag-back. However, although Hernalsteen was still limping from the previous collision, he managed to get down quickly to cover Chan's grounder.
It was difficult to say who had gotten the better of a largely-disjointed first half - although Grilled had shaded the possession stats, -Blitz- looked sharper in taking it forward, what with Gagan Kamat and Ricardo Rey having been pulled infield to cement their influence. And, despite the ground condition, the speed merchants remained ready to go off at any time, a fact that clearly sat heavily on the minds of Grilled's own midfielders.
The Birds would be the ones to impose themselves, though, and they would gradually construct their winning pattern - spread passes to their wingers sitting in advanced positions, with their central players sprinting hither-thither on the lookout for crosses and cutbacks. The latter came for Moey Xin Seng
after a lightning one-two with Chan, and -Blitz-'s fate was sealed, after Daniel Ariton was slow in picking him up. Skipper Christoffer Ricke was furious at that, but he was in truth partly to blame too. 1-2.
Now equipped with some margin for error, Grilled kept on playing the percentages, but it was -Blitz- who should have scored next. There was an uproar from the visiting section when Christian McNutt blew for a penalty after Komisarek crumpled inside the box, when replays seemed to indicate that Yuta Nakakita
had barely touched him. Justice was served, as Valentin Batâr
blocked Tudorache's too-conservative effort.
Things went from bad to worse for the hosts, as Grilled extended their lead in mere three minutes. Orendi made the mistake of waiting too long to step up against Cyril Künzler
, who had timed his run perfectly. To compound matters, he didn't track Islom Davlatov
after that either, and in the end, the Uzbek forward was left mostly to his own devices in front of goal, with obvious consequences.
Given that they had just leaked two easily-preventable goals through amateurish defending, the rest of the -Blitz- team had every right to be annoyed. Instead, they hunkered down to repair the damage, and went some way towards that in the 72nd minute. Kamat blazed down the centre, before disguising his flick for Ant Kearney out back wide. There was much debate as to whether Kearney used his arm to help power it past Batâr, but the referee was once again willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Chan Ze Han
then confirmed that he was human after all, as the Birds roared back into top gear. After a brilliant through pass from Mohammad Ramli Saliman
found him some twenty-five yards out, he elected to shoot, rather than sling it to the far-better placed Moey Xin Seng
, who was totally free in the middle. Chan appeared to regret his decision as soon as the ball left his feet, and it indeed tumbled several metres wide, with Hernalsteen watching closely.
Still, Grilled could afford that, if barely, and they began to hold it up as much as they could. This was not appreciated by the -Blitz- fans, whose whistling began to fill the stadium. The Birds were too professional to be affected by that, and substitutes Gene Filippone
and Chu Xin Lee
did their part in protecting the slender lead to the death.