Spurs Keep It Hot
Heng Leaves Birds Hanging
Phantasm Hotspurs bounced back from a three-game losing streak to snatch a 3-3 draw against Grilled, to thwart Stanca's hopes of avoiding a winner-takes-all showdown against heimu XI. They were well on the way until the final five minutes, with Tian Yonghang
striking twice after his killer instinct was resharpened by his extra time winner against Al Hilal Gaza in midweek, but former Habasit wingback Heng Kim Ting banged in one of the defining goals of his career for the home side to salvage a point.
Neither was it such an unfair result, as Phantasm had certainly put in enough over the ninety minutes to have claim on a draw. Grilled, hit by suspensions to Chow Ying Lee
and Zhu Changchun
, reverted to a 3-5-2 with Liang Liyong
and Ling Fuquan
beside captain Qassem Madaini
, while Hotspurs did the same, with recent arrival Mustaffa Kamal bin Abu Shah handed the key role of supporting Phantasm's attack.
For all that, Grilled had the better of it early, with their frontmen's willingness to help out by dropping back playing a large part. This gave Phantasm's relatively flat back three a dilemma, and Tian Yonghang
took full advantage by edging past former U-20 defender and now respected senior Lo Jing Min in the 13th minute. Ahmad Fuad bin Mohamed made himself big, but Tian's touch was too good.
With Zhu out, Shiya Shaahee
was the favourite to make the Grilled midfield, but Stanca tried to shake his tactics up by loosing the Maldives winger on the left. The rare switch-up pitted Shaahee favourably against the attacking Quek Pin Puay, but unfortunately the Number Seventeen's ambidextrous feet appeared to have become rusty after his enforced posting on the right. He ended up chasing Quek down more often than the other way, and after one too many clumsy tugs, received his third yellow of the season.
's dry spell lasting some 18 appearances continued as he curled narrowly over from a free-kick, a statistic not helped by the team's recent preference for lifting it into the box for Mohd Safri and Seytek in recent months. Phantasm began waking up after this near miss, and Quek drew Madaini wide in the 33rd minute before introducing Liang Cigui with a slippery release. Liang opted for a guileless clean strike, that nevertheless was too fast for Stacey to stop.
Shaahee's efforts finally bore fruit after that, but it was Abdul bin Jantan
who would go on the scoresheet. Some have suggested that bin Jantan's best position is actually on the inside, and the 30 year-old did nothing to dissuade them as he made all the right decisions when tasked with distribution. He again chose correctly after Shaahee sent the ball in after jinking to the touchline, going first-time to leave Ahmad Faud no time to set himself.
Grilled were not bothered for the first quarter of the second half as they again held the ball comfortably when they wanted to, a situation that Aznan bin Mohamad, currently co-coaching the national side, recognized as unsustainable for his team. He made the bold move of pulling Soon Liang How for Khairul Azuar bin Kamaruddin, a masterstroke that had the supersub scoring within the minute, albeit after his scary drive took a massive deflection off Ling Fuquan
's back after the defender attempted to block it.
Encouraged and with the crowd roaring their approval, Aznan tried again in the 72nd minute by calling the knackered Mustaffa Kamal in for veteran Mohd Aiman Wong bin Mohd Noor, but this time it had the opposite effect. Grilled came knocking immediately down the left once more, and Phantasm were still sorting themselves out when Tian Yonghang
slid it through to restore Grilled's lead.
Tian could have closed the door on the hosts five minutes later, but ironically failed on probably his clearest chance of tbe day. Shaahee was again the architect, having gotten himself completely clear down the left, and all Tian had to do to secure his hat-trick and make himself a hero was to beat Ahmad Faud from a near-ideal angle. Strictly speaking, he did, but also played his margins too thin, and saw his attempt trickle onto the post.
Still, the Birds remained in front, and Stanca decided to take no chances with ten minutes to go, ordering his men into full defence. Phantasm were not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, and began inching ever forward, even as Mohd Safri positioned himself for any balls over the top that might come his direction.
Phantasm won this last tactical battle, however, as Lo Jing Min's booking was followed by Phantasm pushing almost everybody into the penalty area after lu Zunwen
foolishly fouled immediately. Lin Jungui
, just arrived for Liang Liyong
, tried to send the ball into touch but only managed to find another Liang hanging out on the wings, and defender Heng Kim Ting did it on the second attempt after the cross somehow filtered through to him.
The home team could even have won it as Cai Yunhan beat Seytek Djekshenkulov
on their next corner, and there was a collective groan of disappointment when the bullet header flashed convincingly beyond Dexter Stacey
, but also inches beyond the top corner. It was all Stanca could do to pause the game by putting Fonseca on for bin Jantan, and Grilled barely escaped with a point, as Phantasm finished extremely strongly.