Grilled capped a bad week with a second defeat, as United Warrior Team advanced at their expense, in the process reversing last season's 3-4 loss. Skilled stalwalts Ivano Gogliucci and Tian Yonghang
were once again the main influences in a highly-technical match-up, but this time it would be the Italian who would leave the happier, as his goal proved to be the winner.
With Wong Tian Han
still holed up in a hospital ward after surgery, Krystian Rykowski
continued doing his part as official understudy. In this department, the Warriors definitely had the edge, 30 year-old German captain Marcel Liefke having conceded just two in his last three games. With former U-20 star Xie Chi Huat on a roll, they had every reason to be confident of giving Rykowski a stern examination.
This came after just six minutes, and the Birds' Polish keeper didn't pass it. The Warriors' promising youngster Robin Liaw had earned a corner after his punt forward brushed Low Aik Jia
's leg, and Rykowski rushed out confidently as it fell into the box. However, he had severely misjudged how much the ball could change direction as it dropped, and ended up grasping at thin air while Claudio Boschetto swooped in elegantly.
This early lead had Warriors head coach Juan Antonio Zuazo motioning for Brazilian left winger Alessandro Rapacchi to sit back already, with a mind toward stifling Wong Ping Shun
's usual penetration. This did help, and Liaw then showed signs of a very bright future. Having already baited Low into a yello card offence, the 18 year-old skipped by his older counterpart in the 13th minute, and latched brilliantly onto Claudio Nacci's through pass for his side's second goal.
Grilled's support at HitMen Arena were silenced at this, and the Birds were again flailing about just trying not to fall further behind. There was little trace of their ordinarily sharp passing as Warriors hogged possession, and it was only an unexpectedly superb stop from Rykowski from Xie Chi Huat's top-class effort that calmed them some.
The forwards finally regained their composure, and were starting to heat things up - unable to react to Chow Ying Lee
's on-the-spot turn in the 35th minute, midfielder Claudio Nacci sprained a muscle, but Chow was sufficiently put off that he could only manage a pitiful tap right into Liefke's chest.
It was a sign, though, and Grilled truly exploded minutes later. With it being the Warriors' turn to doubt themselves, Zhao Jing Wei
cut a swathe through their formation with a lengthy dribble, then changed direction totally and reversed play back to the feet of an accelerating Tian Yonghang
. This move took even former Estonian youth international Ekke Kessel unawares, and Tian then finished it off with a delectable perfectly-calibrated lob.
National forward Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
then equalised in the very next minute, as Wong finally threw off the shackles that Rapacchi had imposed. Wriggling free of his marker's uncomfortably close attentions, Wong unleashed a thunderbolt with his right boot that nearly broke the crossbar. While he didn't score, it was enough to leave Liefke completely out of position, and Mohd Safri was on hand to sweep it into the empty net on the volley.
Having pulled back in short order, Grilled looked far more eager to restart the game, but they would be let down by their defence once more. Wong's absence was strongly felt when Rykowski undid his earlier good work by commiting the cardinal mistake of coming out too early, giving Xie Chi Huat a tempting open goalmouth to lift his lob into.
There was nothing for it but to outscore the Warriors at the other end, and Tian took up the mantle of leadership, taking on the opposing backline all by himself in the 58th minute. He might very well have managed it too, having drawn Liefke out and pushed the ball past him. However, fullback Gianluca Aurigemma effected a miraculous recovery, sliding in just in time to deflect Tian's finish.
There were no such heroics back in Grilled's box, with Gene Filippone
slow to stick his foot out when Xie drilled his low cross right behind him. No such trouble for Gogliucci, who with immense confidence stopped the ball dead, faked Rykowski to dive the wrong way, before nonchalently putting it into the net.
To the Birds' credit, they hung in there, and softened the impact almost instantly. It was again Wong who provided the launchpad against a tiring Rapacchi, as he burst down the right before hitting it back towards Chow Ying Lee
. The retreating Stefan Somma cut it out before Chow could get to it, but only to Woon Shun An
who blasted it into the top corner nevertheless.
A comeback was not at all unlikely going by Grilled's restiveness at this point, and it took all of Liefke's formidable powers to hold them at bay. It was a tough time for the Warriors, and they were only given respite when Gogliucci, whether intentionally or not, buried his knee into Woon's groin.
Having endured a long stint in the treatment room for damage to just this organ not all that long ago, it seemed almost a cruel joke to many present. Woon certainly didn't see the funny side of it, as the big man rolled up into a fetal position in slow motion, and had to be persuaded by the medics to allow himself to be bundled on the stretcher.
replaced Woon without the customary pat on the back from the latter, who was apparently all out, while Zuazo took the opportunity to withdraw Gogliucci too, for an extra defender in Ján Reviľák. This was enough for them to weather Grilled's final storm, as Ling Fuquan
's inclusion for Lee Lee Hao
brought some extra energy, but not enough.