KTH Too Clever
Nullification And Nil
Kim Tae Hee FC completed the league double over Grilled, and in doing so ended the Birds' run of eleven competitive matches without defeat. But while Chilean wingman Bartolomé Nil came up with the goals that earned Kim Tae Hee FC full points, it was Narcis Cercel's tactical nous that really decided the matter.
What Grilled had to accomplish to stay in the title hunt was simple - win at all costs. This was however easier said than done against a team that had only lost narrowly to Mia San Toa Payoh and -= Manchester United =- on home ground, without even taking into account the formation that Cercel put into place: an unashamed 5-5-0. Given that a draw was of no use to the Birds, the message was clear - if you want the points, you'll have to come get them.
This was an arrangement quite amenable to the home fans, who recognized that their team had little to play for in terms of safety. The usual suspects that had overturned Grilled at The Cooking Pot were all there, with the exception of Cory Trang, who had moved to Puh erh after that match. Trang had, of course, faced the Birds again in Puh erh's unsuccessful Sapphire Challenger Cup final bid.
Grilled had gone behind to a fourth minute counter the last time around, but circumstances being what they were, there was nothing for captain Chan Ze Han
to do but order fresh attacks and hope for the best. That didn't go too badly at first, with Vikram Mudaliar
winning Grilled a free-kick with his pace against Zabidi Faysal in the eighth minute. Cyril Künzler
hammered it through the wall, but still too close to Paul Târlă, who threw out a strong hand.
The kind-of-expected then happened, after Târlă stopped another impressive effort from Islom Davlatov
's aggressive advance, a few minutes later. The Birds lost the ball as it was being recirculated in midfield, as young Fan Guang Yun came away with it after Bernie Egan
got overwhelmed by sheer numbers. This was exactly what the wings had been waiting for, and Bartolomé Nil finished after Alejandro Llosa brought it most of the way up the right side.
The same pattern of attack-counter continued, with Mudaliar disappointing greatly with his poor composure in the 19th minute, after Künzler had dropped the ball almost onto his head. For some reason, Mudaliar decided to bring it down instead, only to scuff it badly anyway. There wasn't time for recriminations as the hosts exploded downfield by the shortest route, and Massoud Dob
somehow prevented Alok Jagannath's vicious strike from going in.
Mudaliar would not be long for the game, as he fell heavily in defending against Ivan Zhekov's dribble about the 33rd minute, itself a sign of Grilled's problems. Noubaryan surprisingly decided on Yee Jian Hui
instead of Moey or Chu to fill Mudaliar's boots. There was no break in the excitement, as Künzler - the Birds' top performer thus far, for certain - crashed another free-kick against the post, before Dob pulled off another stop, this time on Fan.
With Mia San Toa Payoh already four goals up at Joker 9B, it was up to Grilled to create, but first they had to content with a Zhekov free-kick three minutes into the second half; Jagannath had almost been both a forward and midfielder at times, and Yuta Nakakita
was fortunate to avoid a booking for his calculated tackle. Zhekov cleared the wall and it would seem, the bar, but Dob rightly wasn't taking any chances.
Urgency was certainly building, and in Kalki Parvathaneni
more than most. Having found the net in the last four games, Kalki surely thought there little reason why today should be any different, and he shattered the Kim Tae Hee FC line after isolating Choy Shun Keng in the 57th minute. There would be nothing wrong with his finish - bent to the far side of goal - either, but Târlă pounced without hesitation.
Ten men in full conservative stance made openings very hard to come by for the Birds, what with the ever-present threats of Llosa and Nil lurking wide. Yee, while definitely running on all cylinders in only his second senior appearance, wouldn't be of too much help. Kalki would have to again do it by himself in the 71st, squeezing in behind with the ball, but wasn't afforded space to set his shot.
The match swung back towards the hosts as Grilled spent themselves bashing their heads against a brick wall, having covered significantly more ground than their opposition counterparts. A Kim Tae Hee FC free-kick in the 81st minute should really have been converted by Fan, while a corner kick some minutes later was glanced narrowly wide by Bartolomé Nil. They were certainly getting closer, and after Prokop Mottl
e replaced Florus Romijn
, Nil would put the game to bed with a swoop from the left.