Belić Belied Youth
Grilled returned from Serbia on the wrong end of a 4-2 scoreline, as Division Two club NS Leksikosi somehow managed to maintain stifling defensive pressure, despite coming out in an extremely expansive 2-5-3. Former youth team playmaker Stefan Belić did not pass up on the opportunity to get his burgeoning career back on track, after it had been rudely interrupted by a freak head injury about a month and a half prior.
NS Leksikosi had sold regular defender Aleksandar Kozić to old rivals Arrogancae not all that long ago, but this was more than compensated by the arrival of former national U-20 player Filip Jovanović, who started at leftback. Together with Enkelejd Cantera on the other flank, Jovanović would carry out the daring strategy of mopping up the expected high balls with the rest of their teammates crowding the Birds out, which certainly took Grilled by surprise.
This was exactly what Grilled did not want to deal with right now, towards the tail-end of an increasingly exhausting season, and they could hardly breathe in possession against the hosts' constant snapping at their heels. Clark Won
's notable calm would look like unwarranted laziness as the redheaded Strahinja Obradović kept bullying him off the ball, and it was one such loss of possession that led directly to Belić firing past Krystian Rykowski
in the eleventh minute.
If the Birds were waiting for Leksikosi to tire themselves out, it wasn't happening, and the men in green were constantly taken aback by just how hard their opponents were prepared to run. Teen winger Dušan Grubić appeared to have lost control of Jovanović's crossfield ball in the 16th minute, but blew a complacent Remco van der Ban
aside with his acceleration, before slotting in the second goal.
Grilled's goal finally arrived five minutes later, as the fast-improving Rinor Isufi
read Pompeo Bellamoli
's intentions excellently, but Leksikosi would soon be two ahead once more, as Enkelejd Cantera exploited the Birds' weakness defending against corners. Non-stop pestering kept Grilled from being able to mount any meaningful offense, and it was a testament to the thoroughness of their press, that striker Miloš Atanacković was booked for trying to prevent Lee Lee Hao
passing it out of his own penalty area.
Player-coach Velibor Mandić, who had been relatively untested in goal throughout the first half, clearly intended to keep it that way by introducing two pairs of fresh legs. Veljko Avramović and the nationally-capped Svetozar Gurović took over the reins of midfield, and normal service resumed with Leksikosi giving the Birds as little space to move in as possible.
It was almost painful just watching Grilled try to find an out, but their moment would arrive in the 57th minute, when Remco van der Ban
considered his practically-nonexistent options some distance from goal, and decided to try a long shot. It looked as if it was headed narrowly wide, only for Mandić to try and play it safe and bat it aside; unfortunately for him, Tian Yonghang
had both the foresight to be in the right place, and the ability to drive a falling ball precisely.
Their leader's admirable finish sparked a flurry of activity from the Birds' players, but this flush would sadly end flat. van der Ban attempted to repeat his previous contribution with a dribble up the left side, only to run straight into Cantera. Grubić retrieved the ball and raced the other way in a flash, and while Low Aik Jia
had the speed to cover the distance, he would ultimately lose out to Belić in an aerial duel.
Now four goals to the good and less than half an hour remaining, the home team were only too happy to alternate between slowly tapping it about at the back, and chasing it down whenever they lost possession. Isufi would try to make things happen, but he wasn't helped by Leong Wan Kang
's uninspired shot-making.