Chow Sees Red
The second league clash between Grilled Birds and Pearl Divers ended as the first one had, with a two-all draw. This was in large part due to the resolve of the goalkeepers, and was in the end a downer for the home team, who could not capitalize on their surfeit of chances.
Divers again banked on the 4-5-1 that they had used in both their matchups with the Birds this season, with Jimmy Ouyang restored to midfield, perhaps a result of their Emerald Cup debacle. Grilled stuck with the tried-and-tested that had seen them blast five past the Divers then, with Rinor Isufi
showing up at The Cooking Pot in public for the first time... on the bench.
The visitors had evidently been busy watching reruns of that game, as they took great care to keep the gap between defence and midfield compact. While this gave up some ground to Grilled, it also meant that they were far less likely to be mugged by a mere several direct passes, as they had fallen prey to then.
Grilled didn't help the entertainment quotient by starting out slow, and this was further exacerbated by the presence of petty fouls, which only increased in prevalence. Both teams were more than guilty of this, which was perhaps best exemplified by a farcical incident in which Zhu Changchun
and Michelangelo Viapiana left a leg out for each other. Latvian referee Madis Tulveitis could do nothing but arch an eyebrow extremely high, as the duo sought to pretend that the whole thing never happened.
The Birds began knocking on the door in earnest, and with 22 minutes gone, Tian Yonghang
finally blew the contest open with his skill. Bringing Gene Filippone
's nearly-flat forward pass down with one exceedingly-measured foot, the Grilled captain then swung around and put it in off the underside of the bar with his other foot, bringing the terraces to a wild frenzy.
The breakthrough only served to heighten the already high level of rowdiness, all the more as some of the Divers players were convinced that Tian was offside, and matters came to a head when former national team regular Mak Chao Puay bumped Chow Ying Lee
off the ball a few minutes later. Chow retaliated with a deliberate clip to Mak's ankles, and was lucky not to be sent off for it.
The spectators were certainly beginning to get their money's worth, and would soon be treated to a breathless four minutes that saw as many near-goals. It all began in the 34th minute, when Low Aik Jia
got the best of Theo Fels von Hartenstein down the left, only for his spot-on strike to be magnificently stopped by Manzoor Azwira Mohd Hassan. Mak then took it upon himself to charge upfield, and even got to apply the finish after some quick transfers, but Wong Tian Han
was similarly agile in the other goal.
It was far from over as Zhao Jing Wei
won Wong's quickly-taken kick out, and Chow Ying Lee
latched onto the big header forward. Again, however, Manzoor was up to the task with a one-handed save, and Divers worked it back through the middle and got it to the fast-breaking Vano Adamiani, but the Georgian winger's seemingly-unreachable hit was likewise clawed aside by Wong.
There was a sharp intake of breath when Lee Lee Hao
finally managed to stop the game by putting the ball out, but the high drama soon resumed - Chow, apparently not appreciating the little shove that Austrian centreback Axel Mair applied to him in recovering his earlier shot, made it a point to follow through on his stiff tackle the next time Mair had the ball. The referee was watching closely, however, and Chow, already on his last warning, would walk as he got his second yellow.
Pearl Divers appeared to relax at that, but they would soon find that Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
could well be lethal on his lonesome. On the first sequence after the restart, the national striker saw his opportunity and took it around two defenders with some nifty footwork. It was down to Manzoor again, but this time Mohd Safri's shot was simply too good.
Two-nil was a good lead to take into the break, but with Grilled now down to ten men, it would be a chore to sustain it for the next forty-five minutes. Eyes turned to Rinor Isufi
, who was unable to sit still on the bench, but a slightly grim-faced Djan Bacelar
made no move - it was not yet his time.
Neither was it time when Adamiani reduced Grilled's lead to one just seven minutes into the second half, after a rare cross from Mohd Safri was cut down before it could reach Zhao Jing Wei
. Lee Lee Hao
then nearly gifted Divers the equaliser with a completely pointless ball back to Gene Filippone
despite Postnikov being right next to him, and it was only dumb luck that Mosè Corghi rushed his strike and put it wide.
Grilled were beginning to feel the impact of being a man short, and after Mohd Safri wasted a great chance to restore their cushion, the mood in the stadium turned sombre as Divers grew in confidence. Indeed, the visitors would soon pull level, as Adamiani enjoyed the space opening up behind Grilled's midfield line. Shaking free of a winded Tian, he made it all the way to the byeline before finding Postnikov, who simply couldn't miss at that range.
A defeat didn't look at all improbable as Tian hobbled painfully back to the centre circle for the kick-off, having strained something in his attempt to track back, but Divers somehow did not push their advantage. Tian too recovered after a few minutes, but with the opponents having apparently decided that a draw was good enough, even he could not create a sniff at goal.
Postnikov too would be frustrated by the lack of opportunities, and he was booked too after bundling Filippone over in the 70th minute. A late substitution of Rashid bin Ahmad
in for Lee did nothing to raise expectations of a late winner, and the Birds would again share the points with the Divers.