Puh Not On Par
Grilled Birds had their first return match with Puh erh since the historic Sapphire Challenger Cup final victory almost five seasons past, and there was some added spice from Puh erh having earned their S-League credentials by relegating Farmer Bunnies - though that had been necessary for the Birds to promote in their stead. This reunion turned out to be nowhere as dramatic, as Grilled thoroughly dismantled the hosts before their packed-to-the-rafters Puh erh Zoo fanatics.
Colombian head coach Julio César Santos has come under some fire after losing his first three top-flight matches, despite his undeniable accomplishments in guiding the club first to that Sapphire Challenger Cup final, and then to the top of II.1; the turmoil has spilled over to the pitch too, it seemed, as Puh erh would again start with just ten men, a result of their ongoing player registration wrangle. Costa Rican icon Marco Tulio Zuñiga, who had memorably put Puh erh ahead in that cup final, would start up front again, though fellow scorer Rémi Borms had since moved on.
For Grilled, Chan Ze Han
remained some days off a return, as reported by club sources, and Neeraj Muthyala
's unavailability left the midfield more or less picking itself, with Cyril Künzler
benched as a precaution, and Heng Dong Chu
missing out again in Eren Serpin
's focus on narrowing play. This was far from unwise given Puh erh's built-in disadvantage, granted, and Italian defender Corrado Duma would have to tread on eggshells, after being more or less forced into a professional foul on Vikram Mudaliar
after nine minutes.
probably had that in mind when he ran straight at the yellow-carded Duma with the ball at the next opportunity, as though daring another mistimed challenge, and this went according to plan with Duma leaving him enough space for a successful shot. Julio César Santos would be extremely busy doing double duty as the Puh erh goalie, and he breathed a sigh of relief as Bilal Mohammad Harun
came up just short on reaching a naughty behind-the-back chip from Chu Xin Lee
Now, Puh erh hardly had the monopoly on dirty deeds, as Kalle ter Berg
showed his more cynical side once again the the 37th minute, when he gave Zuñiga a sly tug on a potential Puh erh breakout. Some referees would have missed that, but not Godot Chatton, who went for the yellow card without hesitation.
That brought scant deliverance for the home team, however, as they suffered a triple whammy in the aftermath. First, Salah Kamel
would get in on the inside track for Moey Xin Seng
's assist, with Duma moreover receiving a second yellow in the process, for bowling the well-placed Mudaliar over. Intentional or not, it was denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, which didn't leave Chatton much room for interpretation. Bernie Egan
wasn't about to go easy with his left foot despite that, and Puh erh would troop off the field being three goals and two men down, at half-time.
Santos would lead his team back on whilst still giving a pep talk, but there wasn't much that he could do, to compensate for their very real handicaps at this point. His heart and commitment was never under doubt, that apart, and he got Puh erh's loudest cheers of the day, with a spectacular tip-over from Moey Xin Seng
's attempted lob, two minutes after the restart. That did plenty for morale, and Puh erh would hold their own for some time afterwards, an achievement in itself given their numerically-reduced status.
Their graft couldn't be maintained forever, despite Ciprian Megan's titanic exertions in midfield, and the Birds would gradually come knocking at length. There would be no denying Mudaliar down the stretch, as Puh erh's capacity for shutting him down waned, and he would play a simple but effective one-two with Kalki in the 68th minute, that put himself clear to make it four. It got worse for Puh erh, as Khaled Islam was left grounded with a swollen ankle, having tried too hard to cut out that final ball; fortunately, he would be able to continue after a liberal application of magic spray, not that there were any backups otherwise.
took the opportunity to get Yuta Nakakita
in for Gilbert Webb
, and five minutes after the continuation, Mudaliar would claim a second goal with a sudden and very hard piledriver from the semicircle. Kalki's bid to join his fellow forward on a brace would be thwarted by William Wainaina putting himself bravely in the way, and he would eventually be replaced by Heng Dong Chu
right before time was up.