Marina Go Down
Manohar In Vain
Grilled Birds rocked Marina Sailors in a cup rematch six seasons into the making, having been wiped 0-3 in the third round the last - and only - time they have met. Since then, the longtime II.3 side have promoted to the S-League, lasted one season there, and immediately won the II.1 title. The last couple of years have been harder on the City giants with midtable finishes, but the recent acquisitions of Romanian centreback Brendon Lampert, and then former national U-20 striker Lam Guang Yew for a cool S$17 million, had reignited faith that they were not on the decline.
Both these stars would start at Woodside Park today, together with a host of familiar faces such as goalkeeper Ramón Galarreta, defenders Gavin Harrison and Puchong Punyachartrat, and of course cult favourite winger MJ Thomas. The eccentric ex-international had bossed Florus Romijn back then, but would be up against a rather more determined Islom Davlatov
Davlatov was hardly one-dimensional in his contribution either, and he was one of the Birds' more-dynamic players as they stole a march on the Sailors. Grilled's frontline was poised excellently against their opponents' more-conservative defence, and there was much running at Lampert and company going on. Davlatov probably wasn't meant to be on the left flank in the eighth minute, but it worked out very well, as he picked up where Kalki Parvathaneni
left off, and drove a stunner low past Galarreta.
The Sailors never quite recovered from their slow start, with Grilled pushing the envelope through individual speed, and Galarreta had to be at his best to save from Kalki mere minutes later. They finally managed a considerable time-out in the 26th minute, after Prabhu Manohar managed to receive treatment for cramping. The Birds weren't letting their edge slip, though, and their very next possession had a Mudaliar header getting hacked off the line, before Galarreta intervened to deny Bernie Egan
the simplest of putbacks.
This led into Marina Sailors' first and perhaps best chance of the match, after Muthyala and Panigrahi completely lost their heads in the 32nd minute. The winger, having shaken off all traces of his earlier impediment, only had Massoud Dob
to beat, but strung his shot inches high.
Despite his goal, Islom Davlatov
's handling of Thomas might not have been up to Hovaness Noubaryan
's standards, as he found himself replaced by Chu Xin Lee
for the second half. Then again, it might just have been a desire to get Chu some minutes. Either way, Grilled angled it long to the overlapping Bhavya Panigrahi
on their initial possession, and the defender's ambitious lob across the goalmouth wasn't too far off. Egan seemed slightly disappointed, that said.
Sailors were definitely coping better than they had, what with their midfield getting more involved, and they would be level after 58 minutes. Manohar was imperious in streaks, and his famed hang time was fully on display as Malcolm Chun's inviting chip over the top came in. Unlike earlier, Manohar wouldn't miss, and deposited his header straight in at the bottom corner.
It was anybody's game now, and for a short while it looked as if the Sailors would repeat their taming of the Birds. Grilled persisted, though, and Chan Ze Han
- who wore the armband today - ultimately took matters into his own feet. The game had tightened considerably, but Chan made the most of room that his forwards had created on the left side, and bolted past a stationary Chun; Gavin Harrison reversed course to stem his run, but Chan merely drew further wide, before finding about the only spot that Galarreta didn't cover, with a crisp swing of his right leg.
That strike was one for the replays, which hadn't been done with when Moey Xin Seng
submitted a new candidate. The Sailors were losing some coherence in the middle as their playmakers tried to do too much, and Chan was allowed to be the provider this time around. Moey had made his move as Chan pinged it patiently between himself and Mudaliar, and his final ball was again the definition of precision. That made it 3-1 Birds, in the 76th minute.
Sailors were forced to dig in now, and there could have been more for Grilled, but Galarreta put together two near-miraculous stops from Bilal Mohammad Harun
and Vikram Mudaliar
in quick succession. Kalki would be booked for unnecessarily felling Garrison too, and frozen-out wingmen Cyril Künzler
and Heng Dong Chu
squeezed an appearance in, towards the end.