Wounded But Deadly
The Birds recorded their first-ever victory over ArSenal U21 on their fourth try, and it was a clear-cut one too. Islom Davlatov
's hat-trick - his first since coming to Grilled - lifted them to a 6-2 final score, which was enjoyed as much by the players themselves, as the near 75000-strong crowd.
All present knew that Grilled's remaining slim chance at the league title was at stake, and given ArSenal's history with the Birds, their supporters had every reason to be nervous; the challengers were arriving buoyed by six straight competitive wins, and their complementary German strike pair of Isaac Altefähre and Étienne Höckelsberger are by some distance the most prolific in III.15, having plundered 19 goals between them this season.
Against this, Grilled nonetheless stuck to their go-to system, though they did drop the overexposed Chan Ze Han
for Kalki Parvathaneni
, supposedly to try and peg ArSenal's backline behind. He did start very positively, with his quick feet relaying Neeraj Muthyala
's third minute short pass across to Mohammad Ramli Saliman
, whose automatic half-volley pinged the goalpost.
Grilled would go ahead in the 15th minute through a Cyril Künzler
special free-kick, after Moey Xin Seng
had milked Delroy Solomon's contact for all his worth on the counter. ArSenal were hardly out of ideas, however, and they received a boost when Valentin Batâr
hobbled off in the 19th. The Birds goalkeeper had to scramble to reach a poor backpass before Altefähre, and tweaked his calf muscle in the process.
This handed Dan Seng
his first league appearance of the season, and he wasn't exactly convincing, allowing Étienne Höckelsberger's average-paced grounder past him on his first real test. Grilled would then be hit by a second forced substitution, as Künzler had his arm jarred out of its socket, by Jonne Matero's uncompromising but legal charge.
Chu Xin Lee
might never have been mistaken for a true winger, but he played the part with a nice ball down the line for Kalki Parvathaneni
upon coming on, which Parvathaneni duly missed; no matter, the Birds were hitting a purple patch, and Yuta Nakakita
took a free-kick quickly, after play had been pulled back from his initial effort. This time, Mohammad Ramli Saliman
fired confidently beyond Alfredo Corrales.
Still, Künzler's departure unavoidably made Grilled's offence more predictable, as they instead leaned on Florus Romijn
, making it rather easier for ArSenal to handle. They only began striking the correct balance after half-time, with Chu rotating with Neeraj Muthyala
as a foil. This was enough for Grilled to put themselves 4-1 up by the hour, with Romijn's cross being elegantly taken down and finished off by the thus-far low-profiled Islom Davlatov
ArSenal's control game had well and deserted them in the face of Grilled's midfield power, and their former Vietnamese international-turned-coach Hou Yongming for once appeared at a loss. This was reflected by the measures taken on-field, with Solomon flirting with a dismissal for hashing a messy challenge on Kalki Parvathaneni
on the edge of the box, following Chu's strike being parried. Fortunately for him, Titus Bachem decided on a yellow card, and Davlatov then ballooned the free-kick.
This didn't stop the Birds from entering party mode, as they eased themselves into a cruise. Wonderkid Chan Ze Han
drew a huge response when he came in for Mohammad Ramli Saliman
for the last fifteen minutes, and this was backed up by two more Grilled strikes in quick succession. Kalki Parvathaneni
finally scored after threatening all day, before Romijn reprised his extremely-profitable partnership with Davlatov, feeding him a third time for the latter's hat-trick.
The visitors would take their opportunity as Grilled slacked off after that, and league-leading scorer Altefähre demonstrated his ability to make the most of scraps, whizzing through a maze of Grilled defenders to reduce to 6-2. Of course, it was little more than a show of defiance, by this stage of the match.