The Birds collected the necessary three points against visiting Cloudz United, whose excellent Sng Keong Hao however made them sweat in the second half. Chan Ze Han
would rise to equal him in the Grilled ranks eventually, and the home fans were then sent home happy with a record-breaking goal by a 42 year-old Tian Yonghang
The visitors were a different animal from when they first troubled Grilled last month, having won back-to-back victories against Red Chaos, and are now a genuine threat to usurp ArSenal U21's playoff spot. Much of this has to be laid at the feet of the magnificent Sng, who entered today having struck in his last three league matches.
Conditions at The Cooking Pot were admittedly very poor after all-day rain, which left the groundskeepers tearing their hair at the waterlogging despite the protective canvas sheets only being removed half an hour before kickoff. Vikram Mudaliar
was a notable absence due to suspension, but the sight of Yuki Irie
on the bench - after an accelerated recovery - was very welcome to the near fifty thousand strong crowd.
While Cloudz head coach Rahul Patil saw no reason to tweak their lineup, given their recent results, Grilled's selection was arguably improved from before, with both their main wingers and their best available defence being put out. There was also the rare sight of Chu Xin Lee
as main striker, a role that he thoroughly lived up to, by scoring before most of the fans were even settled in their seats.
That assist chalked up by Bilal Mohammad Harun
had to have Cloudz's defence doubting themselves, what more with goalie Mahmoud Mohd Faisol absolutely dumping on them for not keeping a watch-out. The rainstorm probably helped Grilled's attack more, actually, and Chan Ze Han
would double their lead in the eleventh minute, having read the non-bounce of the ball more accurately than his markers. Not only that, Cheah Chu Nie would be booked for taking Chan down after the shot had been made.
Current league Golden Boot leader Kalki Parvathaneni
was obviously raring to pad his record, but he was one players whose usual style was less effective here. The Birds would have to wait until the 36th minute to make it three, and that only after Mahmoud had kept Chan's header from barely three yards out; Hoàng Trung Quá
was coming up from right behind, however, and he all but ran the ball into the net by accident.
Cloudz wouldn't make it that easy for the Birds to stroll to the finish line, and they pulled one back, two minutes later. Parvathaneni was advancing down the left side, but it just wasn't his day, and Mohd Kamaluddin Mohd Faris hit a long ball after stripping him of possession. Hoàng didn't quite expect that, and Sng Keong Hao pushed the pedal to the metal, speeding ahead to equalise with exquisite precision.
Sng - who had just celebrated his 21st birthday - had seen his stock boosted tremendously over the past month, thanks to his faultless finishing when it mattered, and he could continue raising the alarm in the second half. Grilled were not doing too well even disregarding that, and an atrociously-botched indirect free-kick in the 57th minute finally convinced Hovaness Noubaryan
to take the plunge: Tian Yonghang
on, Chu Xin Lee
This was not an entirely unanticipated substitution, given that Tian had just featured last week for the first time in a season-and-a-half, but the biggest issue was perhaps that Tian's last league goal had come five seasons ago, against Club Dinosauria. Although he had scored a handful of times in cup competitions since then, it was difficult to see him making a contribution here.
Indeed, running was not on the menu for Tian, but he had lost little of his touch and intelligence in passing. It would be the visitors who would make it 3-2 next, though, after Hoàng Trung Quá
put a good volley high. Sng Keong Hao would turn Yuta Nakakita
with alarming ease when he next had the ball, and Dob barely had time to blink as Sng struck in the same fluid movement.
The Cloudz supporters went completely wild at that, and for a moment, the Cloudz team seemed the ones calling all the shots. Chan Ze Han
was now the one in charge up top for Grilled, with Tian and Parvathaneni falling into supporting roles, and he played like it. Chan would have to continue with a bandaged wrist, after having caught his left hand between himself and Chung Jian Kian in a scrappy situation, but that wouldn't stop him from giving Grilled some breathing space, by turning Florus Romijn
's low cross home in the 78th minute.
Cloudz were running on fumes, so it showed, and the last ten minutes belonged to a Grilled team now eager to burn their remaining energy. Kalki Parvathaneni
's personal quest to keep his six-game scoring streak going would fail at the hands of Mahmoud Mohd Faisol... but the Cloudz custodian didn't count on old warrior Tian Yonghang
, who knew exactly what to expect.
The Green and Yellow Army in the stands absolutely exploded at that, before being confronted by the farce of Massoud Dob
getting injured once again, having twisted his arm in the process of using it to break his fall after a save. A few wits managed to humourously chant for Yuki Irie
to go back to the safety of the dugout, as he came on in time added on, and it was hard to tell if at least some of them were being serious.