The Chase Continues
Miguel Ángel Defiance
There was virtually no doubt as to how this was going to turn out, seeing as how odds were as low as a couple of cents for the Grilled win, from the major bookmakers. Singa Songo indeed did not manage to outdo expectations on that point, but they did carve out a little souvenir for themselves at The Cooking Pot, scoring only their fourth league goal in nine tries.
With the visitors more or less having given up on survival by this point, the Birds felt free to do some reshuffling of their own, and Djan Bacelar
gave a preview of what their first choice attack might look like in a few seasons: Neeraj Muthyala
and Mohammad Ramli Saliman
, both in card trouble, were rested. In their midfield spots were Chu Xin Lee
and Kalki Parvathaneni
, both eager to prove themselves, after some indifferent outings. The presence of Yuki Irie
as midfield anchor behind them was clearly meant as a licence for them to roam, one that they were eager enough to exploit.
Songo had been hit for six the last time the sides met, and with an entirely unchanged lineup and tactics, there was little reason to expect much different. What transpired in the first few minutes did nothing to dispel that notion, with the visitors dropping back of their own accord. It was hardly enough to save them, though, when Yuta Nakakita
struck a lovely through pass out to Moey Xin Seng
in the sixth minute. Moey waited for it to bounce past to his stronger foot, eluding Kong Feng How in the process, before thundering it past Soo Leng Yi in goal.
It was really a question of how many the Birds would score, but as it was, their new-look midfield could probably have done better on the supply side, with both Chu and Parvathaneni slightly off the boil. They would eventually fall back on Cyril Künzler
to drive the attack, admittedly usually an excellent choice. 25 minutes in, a surge by the winger concluded with a truncated short cross to the near side, and Islom Davlatov
took full advantage of the surprise factor to make it two-nothing.
Singa Songo were displaying more initiative than they had at home, credit to them, and Teo Kong Soon tried to milk his contact with Yuki on the edge of the Grilled penalty area. It was probably worth a try from their perspective, even if he got booked for simulation this time. As it was, Chu Xin Lee
would extend Grilled's lead to 3-0 some minutes later, as Chan Ze Han
's off-ball movement opened space for his dribble.
This was the signal for Bacelar to pull Hoàng Trung Quá
off and give Hilal Bakhtiar
an airing, which certainly didn't hurt the Birds any, if their two goals in the next two minutes were any indication; Florus Romijn
went first as Cyril Künzler
's powered cross was missed by everyone else along its path, and on the restart, Chu collected a second, as Romijn turned provider after outrunning the admittedly-quick Mat Sun.
With everything proceeding according to plan, the Grilled players and supporters fell into complacency, and there would be a marked decline in standards as the Birds' young players gave themselves over to entertainment. The coaching staff apparently didn't mind, as this casual attitude carried over into the second half.
Songo were still taking the game quite seriously indeed, despite their disadvantage in just about every department, and they struck a deserved blow to the haughty Birds side in the 54th minute. No-one regarded Kwa Siong Wee's edging up the left flank with much concern, at least not until Mahadzir Hafiz drilled a slide-rule pass down the line. With Grilled outnumbered in defence, 18 year-old American striker Miguel Ángel Botello would give the visiting fans something to cheer about, with his splendid sliding finish.
The goal apparently meant a whole lot to the Songo players, from how they found another gear from then on. Although Yuki Irie
would restore Grilled's five-goal lead with his landmark fiftieth career goal on the hour - albeit despite a very unconvincing shot - Grilled would never quite recapture the air of easy superiority that they had maintained in the first half.
Botello's strike did also remind Grilled of their obligation to respect their opponents, and if there was a player who remained professional in his approach to the game through, it would have to be Künzler. The right winger continued to cement his status as the Birds' most reliable offensive outlet through sheer consistency in getting forward and delivering, but his exceptional cross in the 69th minute was completely wasted by Yuki Irie
, who couldn't get his shot on a wide-open goalmouth, coming up from deep.
Songo would have their long-suffering captain Soo Leng Yu to thank for not falling further behind, as the sweeper-keeper showed good judgment in racing out to settle several dangerous probing passes. His shot-stopping abilities were also called into play frequently, with perhaps the best example being his 79th minute flying save, after Yuta Nakakita
let one rip towards the left edge of goal.
There would be one more highly-memorable save from Soo, as Cyril Künzler
lined one up from a metre outside the box, in the 82nd. It was a brilliant take that would have beaten most goalies at this level, and it took all of Soo's fêted footwork to make it across in time.