Iman Comes Of Age
Grilled never appeared harried against the visiting Cats United, who set up in damage-limitation mode from the word go, but didn't have all the ingredients to succeed at countering. Conversely, the Birds' 19 year-old Iranian forward Iman Eshrafi
had perhaps the game of his career thus far, as he stole the show in attack, winding up with his first-ever hat-trick.
Against Cats' specialised 5-2-3, possession was a given, and Eshrafi had a pop after just three minute, albeit a routine hit that Aw Jing Yun gathered easily. With Florus Romijn
rested, Grilled were intent on advancing down their right flank, and Tan Fu Han became an early victim of Cyril Künzler
's uncompromisingness, when he got his right arm jarred after it got caught between Künzler's legs. In came the teenaged Tarek Wahby, who would have scarce better luck against the Polish wing terror.
That said, Grilled often adopted a direct approach just because they could, and Mohammad Ramli Saliman
spotted a fleeting gap in Cats' armour, as their backline readjusted to the Grilled forwards' runs. The through pass was a thing of beauty, slid right between Vakkom Kesineni and Cheung Kian Puay, and Iman Eshrafi
would get started for the season by nonchalently lifting it high past Aw.
The Birds were not beyond some dirty tricks, such as when Yuta Nakakita
won it off Cats player-coach Blagoy Petrinski with a covert shove to the small of the latter's back, only to be spotted and carded by the eagle-eyed Eros Aristotele. That diversion aside, it was still all Grilled, all the way, and Eshrafi made it 2-0 in the 31st minute with a stiff header from Künzler's dipping cross.
An unusually-subdued Chan Ze Han
made a hash of a great chance in the 36th, but he did at least keep his standard up in the other areas of his game. Künzler continued being a monster on the right, and he claimed a second victim several minutes from half-time, accidentally catching substitute Tarek Wahby in the thigh on a follow-through. That certainly didn't endear Künzler to the travelling fans - not as if he ever was - and Ong Yao Ting took over slightly reluctantly at leftback.
José Luiz Velho
in for Prokop Mottl
was Grilled's half-time switch, and one which didn't pay immediate dividends, as Cats United began to piece things together. They would record their only shot on goal, and a very good one at that, when veteran Khaw Long Ze freed Lee Ping Min with an outside pass in the 59th, after Velho's miss. Lee did everything right with his sharp change of target to the inside post, but reserve goalkeeper Dan Seng
somehow reacted in time with his trailing foot.
Chan Ze Han
then earned a penalty for the Birds after looking for it, and Cyril Künzler
took over, smashing it in calmly. A three-goal lead was enough for Yuta to be taken off as a precaution, with Rashid bin Ahmad
making an appearance. Iman Eshrafi
would complete his hat-trick the very next minute with Mohammad Ramli Saliman
again providing, this time after filtering wide right.
Next in was Tian Yonghang
for Saliman, which only confused the Cats further with Tian's new perspective. He was surprisingly willing to take players on, and although not always successful, this was enough to spark a few extra breakthroughs. For example, it worked in the 72nd minute, and the space opened was sufficient for Kalki Parvathaneni
to follow up and score coming up from the middle.
There would be one final goal in the 77th, after Rashid bin Ahmad
seemed to have wasted an indirect free-kick, by playing it right at Terence Chiu. Fortunately for him, Chiu didn't quite know what to make of it either, and from his ensuing puzzling touch, Chu Xin Lee
ended up in exactly the right spot to beat Aw with a first-time take.