The Chase Continues
Saliman To Sit
Grilled didn't quite manage to make up the goal difference they wanted on league leaders Robbie Football Club, but a 2-5 away win at Super Lakhsa-Lorong 12 was nonetheless an excellent result by any standard. McCoys, while smarting from last Sunday's seven-nil setback, started with the exact same lineup more out of necessity than anything, and they did improve marginally with their fervent supporters at their back.
That said, the attendance didn't breach thirty thousand, leaving the bulk of that situated behind the dugouts, where they attempted to get under Grilled skipper Moey Xin Seng
's skin, for some perceived slight. Moey was altogether too weathered a campaigner for it to work, though, and the game would start as it had last week - with an early Birds goal, this time from Kalki Parvathaneni
's straightforward burning of McCoys centreback Nikola Atanasov for pure acceleration.
Grilled did admit some subtle adjustments despite their resounding victory then, with the most overt being Chu Xin Lee
starting over Mohammad Ramli Saliman
. Other than that, they also appeared to be playing a bit narrower than before, ostensibly to squeeze more out of their possession. The hosts didn't help themselves with avoidable mistakes, such as when Cambodian fullback Sopheap Som slipped after an attempted clearance off Florus Romijn
, allowing the Belgian winger to nick it on to Moey to score stylishly from.
The fans found it hard to keep their enthusiasm up after that, and there was every sign that the Birds were onto a repeat. Twenty-three minutes in, Neeraj Muthyala
seized upon a timely defender-splitting pass from Chu to poke it past Eduard Frani for 3-0. The Italian goalkeeper was all at sea by this point, and it should really have been four after Romijn burst inside with magnificent two-footed dribbling the very next minute, only to somehow tap it to the wrong side of the post.
McCoys were sinking without a trace, but they arrested their decline with some aplomb after that gift. Self-confidence had to be a factor after letting ten in without reply from the same team, but captain Jaani Vehmas had the strength of character to drive forward as if none of that ever happened; this belief got him in behind Yuta Nakakita
, and he pulled out a fine skipping cross, that Rain Lakspere thundered into the bottom corner.
This was exactly what Really McCoys needed, and it was as if a switch had been flipped. Now intent on moulding the direction to their liking, McCoys contended fiercely in the wider positions, with Vehmas and Cazzani engaging in some epic duels with their Grilled counterparts. Inspired, Colm Britton too give free rein to his whimsical nature, and it was only with much effort that Yuki Irie
was able to limit the damage dealt.
The home crowd had good reason to remain optimistic despite their side's inability to further reduce Grilled's lead, as they took their positive attitude into the next half. Alas, McCoys' run would come to a halt when Kostas Tafakis bundled Parvathaneni over slightly clumsily in the 52nd minute, leading to a penalty that Künzler fired into the roof of the net, to loud partisan jeers.
It may be an old adage that at the end, it's only the goals that count, but it must have stung nevertheless as the Birds continued to stick them in despite being relatively unimpressive in open play. Davlatov was fortunate to have won a free-kick in the 56th, having no idea where the ball was, but the Birds turned it into yet another goal with a tricky combination falling eventually to Chu Xin Lee
One could easily understand if the home team were reeling at the injustice of it all, and this mood would bubble slowly to the surface. Britton was probably lucky to stay on, after he put in a snide nick at Yuki Irie
's heels, long after the ball had gone.
With McCoys having apparently resigned themselves to another heavy defeat, the focus of the match regrettably turned away from football, to something more primal. Djan Bacelar
recognized what was going on, and after McCoys' English playmaker Neal McCaskill suffered a calf pull in tangling with Neeraj Muthyala
, the Grilled coach worked in a substitution during the stoppage, to help tensions subside.
Mohammad Ramli Saliman
would come on for Chu Xin Lee
with a brief to cool things down, while McCaskill had to make way for Swiss veteran Agent Schubiger. The forced change ironically did McCoys a world of good, and Schubiger didn't take long to live up to his old secret agent billing, as he picked Moey Xin Seng
' pocket soon after coming on. The resulting sequence saw Sopheap Som making a rare foray in from the right, and he hammered it powerfully past Batâr.
Saliman for his part did have some success calming play down, but his imposition of a much-milder pace only wound up infuriating the McCoys, who weren't about to be lulled till the final whistle. Britton would again take matters into his own hands after more than a few warning tackles on the Number 25 had failed to make the desired impression, and the big Scot would inflict a painful stomp to Saliman's left foot in the 77th.
Incredibly, referee Federico Rovetta missed the entire incident, and as far as he was concerned, Britton had won the ball fairly. Grilled had to chase the ball down and put it out by themselves for Saliman to get medical attention, and it was instantly clear to the medic that Saliman couldn't continue. Moey Xin Seng
for his part tried to remonstrate with Rovetta during this break in play, but the Italian was having none of that.
Rashid bin Ahmad
got the nod over Hoàng Trung Quá
for this unscheduled substitution, and it was likely the right decision, with they 40 year-old demonstrating an extremely mature perspective, picking up right where his stricken comrade had left off. McCoys continued battling, but all they would achieve was another yellow, this one for Fabrizio Fornesi's desperate shirt-pulling towards the end.