Poverty Of Stimulus
Xaviers Entirely Spent
Grilled Birds secured their ninth successive league victory against the struggling St. Xavier's FC, despite head coach François Goncalves' efforts to boost his squad for the Sapphire Challenger Cup final, with the last-minute purchases of winger Nino Petsas and forward Franco Ulisse. Alas, they would lose 0-3 to defending champs Ramseille Volliard FC on haphazard finishing, and had quite obviously not yet recovered from that letdown, by the time they had to turn up at The Cooking Pot.
Xavier's singular emphasis on cup glory had seen them lose their last four league fixtures, sometimes through entirely-overcautious selection of players. Despite the end of that objective, national midfielders Levi Chin and Nikhil Sethi remained rested, but to be fair Goncalves had a wealth of talent to mine. One had to suspect that either would surely have done better than a 39 year-old Haytham Gouda on the left, however.
Team selection aside, Xaviers once again went on the defensive against the Birds, possibly encouraged by their close 1-2 outcome at home. They did give Ulisse a long leash as a free-roaming target man, unlike their strikerless setup then. Grilled for their part stuck with their speediest available frontline, with Yuta Nakakita
's recent improvement earning the veteran defender yet another start.
The supporters wouldn't take long to realize that something was off with the Birds, despite their decent introduction to the game, as they wilted all too easily against the visitors' indiscriminate physicality. Argentine centreback Alberto Belgrano wasn't sparing at all when he clattered Bernie Egan
in the seventh minute, for which he would be booked by fresh-faced Iranian referee, Sepehr Eskafi.
Xaviers' lying deep and overall aggressiveness did mostly work, but the few lapses that they had tended to turn into big chances for Grilled. The first of these fell to Gilbert Webb
, who kept his eye on the ball, and was rewarded when Julius Kovero's attempted clearance came back off Kalki Parvathaneni
. Webb instantly fired past Antoni Sauri, and two minutes later, Heng Dong Chu
had his own volleyed effort breeze inches wide.
The next half-hour after those exchanges would be rather more uneventful, as Grilled continued operating a level below their usual potential. Hovaness Noubaryan
tried to shake things up for the second half, by bringing Bhavya Panigrahi
in for Yuta, but little changed in reality. Xaviers continued to pin their hopes on a flash of Ulisse magic, while continuing to strangle the life out the midfield. Fullback Hilman Abd Ghani Husain Khairul Akmal would cynically hold up a free0kick in the 70th minute, to achieve the second and last yellow card of the day.
A draw didn't seem that impossible, from how Xaviers continued to plot counterattacks, but Grilled would finally get the cushion they had been seeking. There might have been only too many misunderstandings and half-completed attacking movements today, but it would all come together perfectly in the 76th minute. Several excellent one-touch passes let Neeraj Muthyala
past the last man, and Muthyala allowed the ball to run across him, before cutting it back to Sauri's now-unprotected right post, for 2-0.
Moey Xin Seng
would make way for Chan Ze Han
in the 80th, as Grilled set up for a Cyril Künzler
free-kick, which eventually was overhit. Nonetheless, Chan would soon pick up on his habit of scoring against Xaviers with a deadly drive from the left, before Bernie Egan
nearly rubbed it in with a fourth goal, with his glancing header off the upright in the last minute.