A Moment Too Soon
Muda Not Enough
Grilled Birds were undone by Soon Soon at Olympic Lyons Park as the navy-and-white City side made the most of their excellent form in general, and their chances in particular. The Birds could point to a worrying lack of leadership with Moey Xin Seng
ruled out through injury, and although Islom Davlatov
gave a passable impression of the missing captain distribution-wise, there would be a distinct lack of fire when the chips were down.
That wouldn't come into the picture for awhile yet, as the Birds began with a bang. Kalki Parvathaneni
passed a late fitness test to be involved, but it would be Vikram Mudaliar
who completely stole the show. The former Joker9B star's first touch for Grilled was a steal from veteran Salleh bin Vincent Nordin, who was bewildered by Mudaliar's unnatural acceleration. Soon Soon goalkeeper Aw Jing Kum then barely had time to set himself, before the ball flashed over his line.
The Grilled supporters absolutely erupted at that, as their new favourite milked the moment for all it was worth. The opponents weren't about to get caught the same way twice, and Edgar Xochotl did a much better job of tracking Mudaliar, although he did still give them a few right scares.
Perhaps overly confident after that incredible start, the Birds didn't make the most of their possessional advantage, and Aw was not seriously called into action again up until Soon Soon's 26th minute equaliser. Number Seven Leonardo Bellonzi hugged the touchline down an empty right flank after Florus Romijn
had scooted into the middle, and French midfielder Yoann Humeau polished off a weak defensive header out.
Mudaliar was still the centre of attention, of course, as Soon Soon simply didn't know what to make of him. Gadi Geller would be booked trying to hold him back, and several minutes later, Mudaliar would lose Xochotl with a snappy feint-and-cut. The crowd held its breath in anticipation as the little Indian stared Aw down in the final reckoning, before making it 2-1 with a smart little tap to the correct side.
The floodgates appeared to have opened as Romijn added another the very next minute with a speculative strike from outside the box, but it wouldn't be one direction only. Soon Soon were going about their own business well too, and they quickly pulled one back through their well-worked defensive pair: Xochotl spread an indirect free-kick for Patrice Poirier, and Poirier linked up with Salleh bin Vincent Nordin for the latter to answer with a booming drive.
And then, Soon Soon were level once more. The Birds were flustered at letting a pretty soft goal through, and in their haste to rectify the error, would only allow another. Cyril Künzler
made an ill-advised bid to dribble himself out of heavy coverage near his own flag, and Dean Muntz was on hand to bend in a fine cross after Künzler was unsurprisingly outmuscled. Valentin Batâr
watched it come in passively, dumbfounding his defenders, and Michel Daniel Boute pounced for three-all.
Half-time couldn't come quickly enough as a furious Yuta Nakakita
berated his goalkeeper, who wasn't in a mood to take the dressing-down. Hovaness Noubaryan
and Luis Alcántara had to step between them after the dispute threatened to flare up again off-pitch, painting a stark contrast to Soon Soon's placid withdrawal.
This argument would be settled over the break, but there would be no uptick in Grilled's fortunes. Their backline was caught short again in the 54th minute, with Yuki Irie
having just missed a sitter from a set-piece at the other end. Aw restarted quickly, and although Neeraj Muthyala
made a go at slowing Patrice Poirier, his marking left much to be desired as the French Number Nine overran him to score.
Soon Soon had thus taken the lead for the first time, and what made it worse was that all their goals had been eminently preventable. Noubaryan, faced with a startling lack of initiative from his professionals, considered his options before sending Hoàng Trung Quá
on for Yuki Irie
Unfortunately, this substitution proved not to be any silver bullet, as the coaching staff should have realised from recent experience. Hoàng's reluctance to commit to the tackle was a liability as Soon Soon pressed forward boldly, and he allowed Boute simply too much room to pick his pass in the 71st minute, which led to a easy finish by Gadi Geller.
Tempers would again flare amongst the Grilled set as Hoàng tried vainly to rally his teammates, as Chan Ze Han
was shown on camera looking forlornly at the sorry sight. Kalki Parvathaneni
showed fight if not good judgment as he was carded for trying too hard to win the ball back in the 74th minute, but it would indirectly pay off as Soon Soon lost the ball cheaply from the free-kick. Romijn didn't need a second asking, and his direct cross was just about turned in by the onrushing Parvathaneni.
This was a signal that the Birds were not quite cooked yet, but an equalising goal would prove elusive as Soon Soon played for time in earnest. Remigiusz Paprotny stubbornly taking it to the corner might not have made for the best watching, but Grilled would have to admit its effectiveness, as they went out of the Sapphire Challenger Cup after fifteen tedious minutes.