Capricious To The Last
Mohd Jafni Memory
wasn't kidding about continuing to let his players express themselves during friendlies, and going by how they fared against Taiwanese third division hosts Capricorn United, there may well be something to be said about this tack.
A giant of the Nan-tou region, Capricorn's rapid rise had included the spin-off of a Swiss side, Steinbock United 15; while the latter, like possibly the Farmer Bunnies, looks to be outstripping its parent, Capricorn did take care to retain some top-drawer players - chief among them Oli Näscher, an S$8.1 million recent signing from 1. FC Misanthropia.
Other than that, Wolf-Birger Scheidecker was a fighter in midfield, and considering the entire package, it was hard to look past Capricorn taking this. However, the Chan Ze Han
-led Birds weren't perturbed in the least about on-paper analyses, and set out to attack without fear - and with not much more restraint.
Grilled clearly were precarious in defence, as revealed when Iman Eshrafi
had to track all the way back to cut Näscher down in the tenth minute, leading to a lucky escape when Julien Dudouet's free-kick on the reverse run shaved the bar. However, the point was that Capricorn were too often kept busy fending incursions off themselves, and it would in the end be Mohammad Ramli Saliman
who opened in the 26th, after a stylish assist off the hold-up by Moey Xin Seng
That sparked off a very busy few minutes, as the home team made to recover straightaway, only to be caught undermanned, with Rashid bin Ahmad
somehow left behind at the opposite end, where Dudouet turned zero from nearly-hero with an ill-advised fancy touch. Oli Näscher was made of stern stuff, though, and he cancelled that out in the next minute with a gritty and slightly dubious header, with his arm appearing to help the ball on. It stood.
All that was well enough for the next ten minutes or so, as the players took it down a notch, apparently by mutual consent. The game came alive again five minutes from the end of the half, with a long sequence beginning with Saliman's bad tackle on a very-involved Dudouet. Capricorn were again almost hit on the counter, but they got the better of the exchange this time. Chu Xin Lee
's effort was batted over by Tomàs Teixidó, leaving German veteran Leon Hanakampf to equalise on their next move.
If the fans had enjoyed the ping-ponging first half, they were in for a real treat in the second. Capricorn gaffer Zoltán Virág had apparently also subscribed to the "what the heck, let the players do what they want" school of thought, and more goals were exchanged in short order, with Hanakampf again drawing them level with a sweet curler, after Kalki Parvathaneni
surged through for 2-3.
The balance slowly began to tilt the Birds' way, as Capricorn couldn't seize the initiative for any great length of time. Chan Ze Han
pulled wide right to supply Prokop Mottl
in the 63rd minute, while Moey proved his deadliness from corners seven minutes later. Of course, Grilled remained vulnerable on the back foot, and there was little stopping Näscher from hitting an easy reducer, right after Moey's goal.
The Birds evidently felt that drawing wasn't as fun as winning with that, and began actually looking to protect their lead more cynically. In fact, this probably led to Capricorn getting more chances than they would have had, but they just weren't able to capitalize. It was hard to tell at the point of Rashid bin Ahmad
's departure as to whether it would help their cause, given his relative steadfastness in one-on-ones.
Mohd Jafni Abdul Majid
proved a worthy replacement, as it turned out, and he made several risky interceptions, that would otherwise have led to some dicey situations. This was enough to last until the final few minutes, when Grilled began to use up their substitutions - Tian Yonghang
and Remco van der Ban
took their time strolling on.
And then, out of the blue, an equaliser. Leon Hanakampf had equalised twice for his side already, and it would be a rare hat-trick, when he seized upon an overly-casual backpass by Mohammad Ramli Saliman
, as the match entered time added on. Dan Seng
was alert, but Hanakampf's lob was just too accurate.
All in all, this seemed like a fair result, but Grilled turned out not to be done either. With nothing riding on the result, the Birds went for broke on their last attack, and it paid off. Chu Xin Lee
's hard strike was saved but not cleared effectively, and substitute Mohd Jafni Abdul Majid
would win it at the death with an emphatic finish from close up.