Grilled Birds took another huge step towards the II.2 title, defeating hosts Kim Tae Hee FC by three goals to one. Their Club Arena had been a fortress in the league, with them not having lost there since their opening day loss against -= Manchester United =-, but the Birds cared little for reputations with their monster central attack making all the difference.
With Florus Romijn
suspended, Hovaness Noubaryan
slotted Bilal Mohammad Harun
in as a left winger biased towards the centre, while Kalki Parvathaneni
would have to wait on the bench as Moey Xin Seng
continued at forward. Kim Tae Hee FC would have Polish striker Ignacy Karnat back after his thigh acted up against FC Tobi 74 a couple of weeks ago, as they pinned their midfield hopes on former Joker 9 wonderkid Tan Shun Tze. Both were notably absent in their 1-5 defeat earlier in the season, Karnet due to them playing 5-5-0 then, with the 20 year-old Tan having just been transferred from SingaStyle last month, for a cool S$13 million.
About Tan's valuation, he absolutely didn't look out of place alongside national U-20 compatriot Law Choon Yeng or Choy Shun Keng, and the outstandingly-dynamic trio would more than hold their own against the Birds' veterans. Tactical discipline, so often the bane of young midfielders, would not be an issue today, and it was instead the likes of Chu Xin Lee
who found himself outthought by his juniors at times.
They had an understated instinct for exploiting weaknesses too, and after an extended break due to Álvaro Velasco Miranda spraining his wrist by breaking a fall, Kim Tae Hee FC went into overdrive. Centreback Kok Lee Kwang was the unlikely scorer as he burst forward some fifty yards to get into position, but there was no mistaking the engine that the defender had on him. Gilbert Webb
not-unreasonably placed his focus on Mohd Irzani Mohd Ridhwan, and was blindsided by Kok's finishing abilities.
The fans certainly appreciated this well-worked team goal, if not for too long, as Vikram Mudaliar
broke through several minutes to equalize despite Paul Târlă's best efforts - no muss, no fuss. The formerly-controlled contest then took a chaotic turn, with the usually-cool Tan Shun Tze booked by referee David Vázquez for a sneaky jersey tug on Neeraj Muthyala
, a call that Tan didn't take kindly to. Amidst the distraction, Choy tried to spring Grilled's backline, which had been creeping upfield, but Webb covered what could have been a tricky development very competently.
It was then 2-1 to Grilled almost out of nowhere. Webb didn't waste much thought on what to do next, as he strove to divest himself of the ball as conveniently as he could, and it was helped on to a lurking Islom Davlatov
. Italian sweeper Eliano Mantovani appeared to have him pinned down, but Davlatov bypassed him cleanly with a magical first touch. The replays would have to be slowed down for most watchers to comprehend what he had done, but the ball was in the back of the net by then.
The Birds ended the half still ahead despite some enterprising running from Ignacy Karnat in the final minutes, and they came back out with a brief to maintain that lead. Chan Ze Han
was everywhere as always, but Kim Tae Hee FC kept their creative juices flowing, and Bhavya Panigrahi
would have to trip Tan Shun Tze in the 58th minute, with the nippy midfielder in the process of getting around him. It turned out to be a wise choice as Karnat drove the free-kick too high, but Panigrahi will nevertheless miss next Sunday's fixture against United on cards.
Grilled were not too subtly operating on the counter by this point, and Bilal Mohammad Harun
would draw a fine save out of Târlă. Mudaliar's exit for Kalki Parvathaneni
was almost lost in all the excitement as the match came to a boil, with Chan Ze Han
very nearly embarassing Mantovani again with his twinkle toes. The hosts were not without teeth themselves, and their own riposte had Deng Lee Han's strike nearly beating Massoud Dob
, who had to crawl over to smother the spill.
There were no signs that Kim Tae Hee FC were letting up, but observant commentators could not help but note their edge blunting slightly. The Birds had fresh legs on in the person of Kalki Parvathaneni
, and he would single-handedly peg their left side back, after a near-miss in the 70th minute. Moey Xin Seng
played it over the top, but Paul Târlă just about got in the way with his immediate dash out of the penalty area.
The killer third goal would eventually come, to the dismay of the home fans. They had been holding off a slow Grilled build-up quite comfortably, but they didn't count on Gilbert Webb
borrowing from Kok's playbook, and embarking on an extensive off-the-ball run of his own. There remained much to do with Kok himself remaining between him and goal, but Webb dazzled with a smoothly-executed lob that caught Târlă napping.