Toa Payoh MIA
Bilal At Best
The victories are only now rolling in, as Grilled Birds ran up a 4-1 away result at HDB Stadium against Mia San Toa Payoh - their first there, and only their second overall in eight meetings. Mia San had certainly been a thorn in the Birds' side for the previous four seasons, to the point that Grilled fans dreaded this fixture more than almost any other. The tables might be turning, however, from how completely Grilled commanded the field today.
Going by form alone, the Birds had to be counted in; they had acquitted themselves honorably in September, after all, unlike their hosts, who had been undone in the previous three league games. About their greatest consolation was that they had kept KingofNoobs United close, in their latest home match. A big factor in their slump had been held as the untimely collarbone injury to Tan Tong Leong on national duty against Slovenia. While Tan had reportedly recovered, his lack of match fitness had Portuguese head coach Gersão Pereira Correia stick with Jerry Lim as lone forward, in a 5-4-1.
It didn't go well for Mia San, not against a Grilled unit stacked to the extent that players on the level of Chan Ze Han
, Bernie Egan
and tellingly record signing Heng Dong Chu
had to be relegated to the bench, and not without good reason. Neeraj Muthyala
was listed on the wing as Grilled went all-out on possession, and Kalki Parvathaneni
had to do with a less-preferred midfield role, after Islom Davlatov
got the nod in attack.
All high-quality pieces in Noubaryan's hand, as he evocatively described them in the match programme, and they could do little wrong with a brutally-blunt approach. It was all short passing, sudden changes of direction and subtle touches for the Birds' finest, and it was more than Mia San's mere numbers could deal with. They had evidently put too much faith in a defence in depth, which as Hong Kong international Ma Xiuxian belatedly discovered when Vikram Mudaliar
nudged past him to open in the twelfth minute, was entirely inadequate.
This was how the Grilled support had wanted their side to beat up on passive opponents, with clever movement and surgical precision. They weren't all that bad at using tiny spaces either, as Bilal Mohammad Harun
soon demonstrated, as he held court on the left against Pablo Cesar Tarant. A return ball to Neeraj Muthyala
looked the best course of action, but Bilal was feeling frisky, and he instead bypassed the Argentine fullback before finishing himself at the near post.
The hosts' morale had to be at a low following that, none the more than for goalie Victor Floroiu, who had shouldered much of the blame for their recent losses. There was honestly not much that he could have done here, though, what with his entire backline parting for Kalki Parvathaneni
just three minutes after Bilal's second. Floroiu closed as well as he could, but Kalki merely nicked it to Islom Davlatov
with the outside of his boot, for a walk-in third.
There were some empty seats as Grilled carried on their assault, and Bilal might have directed a lob into the far side of goal, had Eleazar Morgado not warded it behind with a terrific leap in a show of coordination. Mia San then had their best opening of the game bar none, when Cyril Künzler
was left behind as Taranto doubled up on his flank without warning. He might have had too much time to pick his shot against Massoud Dob
, and wound up stroking it slightly wide.
would have his turn in place of Davlatov for the second half, despite the latter's goal, as Noubaryan kept with his philosophy of maximizing his players' stamina. It would continue paying off, and Grilled were 4-0 up just five minutes in. Bilal Mohammad Harun
was always on the lookout for firing angles, and he found one on a botched attempt to play out of defence. Floroiu got a glove on that thunderbolt, but far from enough to keep it out.
It wouldn't all go Grilled's way, even as they pushed to rack up the goals, and skipper Moey Xin Seng
would go too far with a very unconvincing tumble in the box, which brought him a yellow card and a suspension for the next round. Bilal wasn't slowing down, and tried another calculated lob in the 64th minute, but it was caught by Floroiu and turned into a counter. Mia San advanced with the resolution of a team freed of considerations, and German centreback Henning Prutky reduced from the massed charge.
Thus began Mia San's recovery, which would however pay few concrete dividends. Dick McCandless and Jerry Lim, who had bagged six between them in the team's past meetings, would go on to test Dob with several reasonable attempts, but nothing that the Algerian custodian couldn't handle. This action came alongside a couple of full-blooded tackles from Oleg Usik and Pablo Cesar Taranto, for which they were duly cautioned in turn.
There would be one final golden opportunity for the hosts, when a retreating Jerry Lim sprung a superb reverse pass through to Russian fullback Ilya Sklyankin. Sklyankin went for height and had Dob beaten, only for the ball to bounce off the top of the crossbar, and theatrically roll onto the roof of the net.