Florus With A Flourish
newbies are newbies would introduce a number of their younger generation of stars against the Birds, but nevertheless suffered their fourth straight defeat, and eighth from the last nine, in this fixture. The new boys did give Grilled a thing or two to think about, though, and it wasn't quite a gimme as some of those previous wins had been.
Forwards Tony Charlton and Liao Chi Yun had actually separately started once each against the Birds, if unsuccessfully, but it was a first for the debuting Brendan Pham, who had earned four national youth caps while playing in France for Monaco AS. The blockbuster S$16 million signing from Arcturules was joined by 18 year-old Peh Ting Hao, himself also already a multi-millionaire return purchase after a productive season at Iran's DAYAN.SC.
And Peh might have started with a bang here too, after he was showed too much of the ball by an overconfident Chu Xin Lee
, and blazed in behind on the right after the steal. It was sadly also a bit too early for Liao, who was thrown off his header by an alert Yuki Irie
; Valentin Batâr
threw himself on the loose ball gratefully.
That sure woke the Birds - and the fans in the stadium - up, and it all became much more cautious as a wary Grilled compensated overmuch. newbies' new frontline was definitely more measured than their longstanding Chia & Li partnership, but if the intention was to throw Grilled's defence off, they remained a little off that level.
For all of the extremely impressive Pham's steaming about in midfield, Grilled maintained a slight edge in possession, and newbies' defending in deep produced a surfeit of corners. One of these, in the 21st minute, would be connected solidly with by Yuta Nakakita
for the opening goal, as Seetoh Aik Beng got blocked off by his own eager defenders.
newbies' resolve would take another blow three minutes later, as they tried too hard to force a reply. Current national youth fullback Martin Tung was intent on getting by Florus Romijn
, but to be honest, didn't have the raw acceleration to. Romijn advanced with Kalki Parvathaneni
as foil, and a rapid to-and-fro had him finishing what he started, for 2-0.
It was down to the old guard to save newbies now, and grand senior Leow Jing Ting used every once of his experience to shield the ball from an encroaching Moey, after being hastily sought out. Leow then turned this inauspicious beginning into an assist, as he divested it on to Daniel Quong making a run in behind Yuta Nakakita
. Batâr tried to close him down, but was a fraction too late.
Despite this, it was Grilled who always threatened more directly, with their strikers having creativity enough of their own. Islom Davlatov
's unselfish knock-on for Neeraj Muthyala
in the 37th was wasted, though, and Cyril Künzler
did everything but place his shot right, after leaving three men behind him a few minutes on.
It was Grilled's turn to burst out of the gates upon the restart, and they did the business through Florus Romijn
. Tung's devotion to supporting newbies' attacks again cost him dear, but Peh Ting Hao could also be partly faulted, for not filling the gap per standard operating procedure. Whatever the case, Romijn was again off and away, and he cut to the near side before squeezing his second goal in.
Had Cyril Künzler
been as enterprising as Romijn had been, it could well have been another whipping, but the Pole appeared drained this day. Despite that, the Birds' offensive machine purred on, and it took a magnificent one-handed stop from Seetoh to deny Neeraj Muthyala
in the 53rd. Davlatov then got free five minutes later, but Peh made up for his earlier lapses by chasing the final shot down.
The ensuing counterattack put newbies back into the game, as the ball was cleared temptingly for Tony Charlton down the left side. The obvious play after he reached it was to center it for Daniel Quong - who had gotten on the right side of the frantically-retreating Yuta - and this was what Charlton did. Quong dug out a first-time strike with the outside of his weaker foot, which was enough to send it into the bottom corner of the net.
Sensing a real chance at taking points off their old enemy, the newbies faithful roared their team on ever louder; Grilled, whose defence had been becoming rather unconvincing, tried to take some of the pressure off by padding their lead. Kalki Parvathaneni
pulled away neatly from Kwok Wan Yau to that end in the 64th, but rang it off and over the crossbar.
Brendan Pham, clearly newbies' most-outstanding outfielder for the day, then made his bid to become an instant hero, with his monster jump to meet Guan Wen Jin's inviting cross from deep, coming in from wide right. Yuki Irie
would lose out to Pham's sheer altitude attained, but the towering header would drop barely a foot wide, with Valentin Batâr
This was a great let-off for the Birds, and Djan Bacelar
was not about to risk a second one. Finally ordering Moey Xin Seng
to man-mark Pham, which he had actually been doing on-and-off, Bacelar further put Hoàng Trung Quá
for Yuki, with a brief to keep a further eye on the newbies midfielder.
This tack would be effective, if not at all pretty, but as far as the visitors were concerned, the three points overrode all other considerations.