First In Five
Seizing The Lead
Though Grilled Birds got their first win against Mia San Toa Payoh in five attempts, one could hardly accuse the Toa Payoh giants from going missing, despite the four-goal margin. On the contrary, the Birds were simply that
masterful, and looked value for every single goal that they claimed.
The scenario, as various commentators had taken pains to point out, was straightforward - Grilled had to win, for any real chance at the title, what with Kim Tae Hee FC also waiting to pounce. Hovaness Noubaryan
's team selection reflected that, with pace on the outside, and Bilal Mohammad Harun
reprising his role as almost a fourth central midfielder. Mia San had national superstar Jerry Lim back, of course, and back in top form a month from his three-week layoff. He would play off Tan Tong Leong, as the visitors sought to rediscover the deadly fluency that had seen them beat Grilled 3-0 and 6-1 already, this campaign.
There were signs that this was going to be a changed story right from the start, though, with Mia San never quite being the same after their loss to Real Balmoral. For one, they were clearly aiming to go on the defensive, what with Azrinuddin bin Hj Erywan doggedly tracking Islom Davlatov
. This reactive stance wasn't Mia San's natural style, and it told as Grilled adopted a comfortable attacking pattern before the largely-partisan 77000-strong audience.
The first big exchange took place fourteen minutes in, with livewire Kalki Parvathaneni
providing the extra sauce that confrontations at this level need, as he took on Ma Xiuxian and came out on top. Panamanian centreback Eleazar Morgado's judgment was impeccable as he indirectly won the ball back with an immediate slide in, though, and Mia San would earn a free-kick right on the edge of Grilled's penalty area, following Yuta Nakakita
's cynical block on Oleg Usik. Usik took it himself, but only tamely into Massoud Dob
More to-ing and fro-ing next, but more to-ing, as Grilled grinded out half-chances at irregular intervals. A notable one fell to Yuta from a good Cyril Künzler
delivery, but he swung and missed, leaving Kalki to salvage a corner out of it. This time, Künzler went short and then to Bilal Mohammad Harun
at the near post, and Chan Ze Han
wowed the fans with an improvised backheel on Bilal's flick on.
It was a goal worthy of about any highlight reel, and the shaken Gheorghe-Daniel Stanoiev would be beaten a second time just a couple of minutes later. There appeared little enough danger as Neeraj Muthyala
was allowed to run with the ball well thirty metres from goal, and Muthyala's effort was good-looking, but common enough. It seemed to catch a sudden gust right before it reached Stanoiev, however, and this was enough for it to barely cross the line, with the custodian scrabbling after it fruitlessly.
Mia San Toa Payoh, badly stung by that, mounted a great reaction through Irish winger Dick McCandless. McCandless had the measure of Florus Romijn
on defence, and proved equally potent on the front foot, blowing past Romijn in the 37th minute. It was a classic breakaway from midfield, and Jerry Lim demonstrated his class with a magical first touch to send the ball spinning past Dob, almost like a pool trick shot.
This could have turned the tide had the Birds not reimposed their will, and shortly after another Muthyala long shot was saved, Chu Xin Lee
made it 3-1 from a close-up strike. His first attempt actually came down off the crossbar, but Chu hadn't forgotten his basic coaching, as he followed up on his own shot with Stanoiev sprawled out.
was entrusted with Grilled's defence as Yuta Nakakita
reported a minor strain during the interval, and Neeraj Muthyala
wound up with the captaincy with Hovaness Noubaryan
wanting a more centrally-situated authority for this fixture. Freed of this responsibility, Chan Ze Han
went for the immediate blitz, and his stupendous dribble from the left nearly fooled home audiences after he buried his shot into the side-netting.
Mia San Toa Payoh were barely came out of their shell after early resistance, as they shifted to a long-ball tack - which, to be frank, quite suited Tan and Lim actually. The Birds had enough control to keep Muthyala back, though, and the biggest opportunities again manifested at Mia San's end. Cyril Künzler
skipped a pair of tackles to confront Stanoiev one-on-one in the 57th, but Stanoiev stayed on his feet well to affect Künzler's finish.
The pace slowed as Mia San waited on the counter, which would come ten minutes later following Islom Davlatov
's crossbar-shaving. Gevanni Abbeloos was unmarked as he sprinted down the middle in anticipation of Tan Tong Leong winning the goal-kick, but Massoud Dob
earned his pay with a magnificent spring to his top corner, to raucous cheers from the home support.
Nothing of as much note would occur for the next twenty minutes or so, up until Bernie Egan
came on for Bilal. The mood at The Cooking Pot had been triumphant for some time before that, with Mia San Toa Payoh showing few indications that they were capable of mounting a late comeback. It was only going to get much better.
The fourth official had just indicated two added minutes, when Kalki Parvathaneni
struck in the first of those. The Mia San defence had perhaps gotten a little complacent, when Chan Ze Han
repaid Kalki's earlier favour, with a dinky layoff after having penetrated to within ten metres. There was still much to be done with Morgado coming across, but Kalki kept control by clipping the ball to his weaker foot, which was quite sufficient for the job at hand.
If the visitors thought that was the end of it, they were mistaken. With the wind behind his back, Bernie Egan
's fresh legs were all but uncatchable by Mia San's tired ones, and he would go it himself to make it five right before the referee blew for time.