It was a derby that Sheares H were favoured in, but Grilled Birds rewrote the script with a 2-1 win in the third round of the cup, that was perhaps not quite as close-run as the scoreline suggested. Their tame 0-3 defeat to Hibernia on Sunday hadn't helped their fortitude much, on hindsight.
There were few indications that it was going to turn out that way from the get-go, though. While the Birds' new big signing Cyril Künzler
drew his share of camera flashes as he trotted in, Sheares had the solid Maltese fullback Charles Bartolo on him, and their own overperformer in Swedish forward Cecilio Marinovic. While he has had a dry week or two, he had been a goal-a-game getter for the past months, many of which owed to his spectacular leap.
Not six minutes had passed by, when the Birds found themselves on the wrong end of his abilities. Neeraj Muthyala
had been press-ganged into defence after Hoàng Trung Quá
found himself dropped, and he certainly looked like a fish out of water, as he allowed Marinovic to impose himself and win a bounce that he had no right to. Eirik Hovland could hardly believe his luck as the ball got nodded on to him, and Valentin Batâr
's best efforts couldn't prevent Hovland from sliding the opener by him.
Batâr laid off the finger-pointing, and as it happened, the Grilled machine began purring. Sheares took on a much more defensive posture after taking the lead, which only emboldened the Birds' young midfielders; Moey Xin Seng
, so prominent during his recent games, however probably tried too hard to involve Künzler, which made his passes too easy to read at times.
With the Polish winger often being doubled up on, Clark Won
found himself with more freedom than usual on the left. Twenty minutes in, Won reversed it following a run to the middle, but Tian Yonghang
went down making his way to it, evidently having been nudged by Vitaliano Ricciatti. Referee Anes Bašura was convinced it was a dive, and Tian would do no better six minutes later, as his scorching low drive was warded off and behind by Roberto Rodriguez.
If Tian's pace had diminished appreciably, his tenacity and sleight-of-foot powers were as good as ever. After picking up a booking for trying to win the ball back with a typical forward's tackle, Mohammad Ramli Saliman
played a pivotal role on the next go, breaking through on the left to throw the Sheares defence into disarray. Corentin Balme managed to head the incoming cross - intended for Kalki Parvathaneni
- aside, but only to Tian, who promptly stabbed it in.
It was all up for grabs again, and Grilled pressed hard, forcing Vitaliano Ricciatti into a foul on Cyril Künzler
as the winger threatened to blow him aside. It was finally Künzler's time to shine, and he took the free-kick himself, floating it nicely into the six-yard box. Rodriguez couldn't quite reach it, and Chu Xin Lee
would snatch a volley into the roof of the net.
The break would be better for the Birds than Sheares, all considered, and very soon, the opponents' purple shirts would hardly be seen venturing out of their own half. Cecilio Marinovic had already been less than a happy camper for awhile, not receiving the service that he felt entitled to - little did he know that Hovland's goal would be their only shot on target throughout!
Rodriguez would be the busiest person for Sheares in the second half, beginning with his one-handed save from Kalki Parvathaneni
just two minutes after the restart. Künzler was starting to throw off his shackles, and he would escape Bartolo's careful watch with an explosive turn of pace. Parvathaneni slid in like clockwork, but hadn't counted on some magical goalkeeping from the Sheares custodian.
Sheares were being pummelled, and Rodriguez would somehow keep them within touch, with a fingertip save from Mohammad Ramli Saliman
after the forward had totally flummoxed a stressed-out Bartolo. Sheares gaffer Marco Trocado was on his feet yelling orders to his players by now, which did seem to steady the ship abit. Feliks Wyglądała and Paul-Constantin Ghiţun were also seen warming up vigorously, but ultimately didn't come on.
While the scoreline stayed tight, there were few signs that Sheares could get themselves back in the race. In particular, the thankless job of keeping up with Künzler was really getting to Bartolo, and he had no option but to sweep the Pole's legs out from underneath him, in the 72nd minute. Bašura allowed the play to go on, and only after Rodriguez pulled off yet another superhuman save from Saliman, booked the bedraggled fullback.
His torture would mercifully not have much longer to go, with Tian Yonghang
fading too. Hopes of an equaliser against the run of play would slowly disappear as Grilled began to play keep-away, and the match would end with a relative whimper, after a single minute of time added on.