Depleted On Duty
Grilled Birds would return to winning ways at home, to the great relief of their support, who made up the bulk of the nearly sixty-three thousand that had come to watch them take on The EV, who fielded an almost-unchanged lineup from that which fell 2-4 about a month and a half ago. This was however accompanied by additional squad pressure, with two key players going off injured in the first half alone, and then Kalle ter Berg
being sent off on the hour.
As starts went, the Birds had one of their best for some time. The EV gaffer Mario Velasco had pointedly adapted his defence to counter Grilled's concentration of forces, but this left Yuriy Benko relatively vulnerable to Wu Jinglong
's creative probing down the right. Wu would settle for a corner in the third minute, and Mateja Jeftić
made the most of it, punting it to the near post where Kalle ter Berg
added his touch. Vikram Mudaliar
knew what he was going for, and let rip to the far post.
Former Pakistani U-20 goalkeeper Rizvi Younes could hardly be spotted for being unable to react, what with his vision blocked by a sea of legs, and in any case he had much more work ahead. Grilled were circulating the ball between themselves very eagerly, generally a bad sign for visitors, with the right flank being especially active. Mudaliar and Jinglong had pace to spare, forcing defenders to stand off more than they probably should have, seeing as how Neeraj Muthyala
was allowed so much space to prepare a strike in the 14th minute. Two-nil.
The EV stabilized somewhat after that, with captain Chng Puay Leng holding their backline together, although he would have to drop rather deep to do it. It would take almost twenty minutes for the Birds to test Younes seriously again, as Chan Ze Han
tried a lob, that resulted in a dramatic tip-over. This didn't go well for Moey, however, as he appeared to have dislocated his shoulder, in a particularly jarring challenge against Ján Gemer - which was Bernie Egan
's cue to take to the field competitively, for the first time in a month.
Alas, Egan wouldn't last very long either. He would be extremely effective in his short time on the pitch, first freeing Chan Ze Han
- now the skipper - and then pressing Younes into a brilliant point-blank save in quick succession, but that last would be his last major contribution. Egan would soon be the victim of a clumsy tackle by Giovanni Fiorilli, which hit his just-recovered right knee. Serpin wasn't about to risk his valued forward further, and withdrew him for Chu Xin Lee
The crowd was unmistakeably hungry for a win here, from the fanfare that the players received after returning, and the players in turn would get straight back to business. A concerted drive in the first few minutes had Bilal Mohammad Harun
go for it right on the edge of the penalty area, and he would watch it come off the post. The scramble for the rebound had Kalle ter Berg
upend Lars Smalbil, and he was never getting away with that.
Grilled pressed on heavily, and another big save from Younes on Chan would be accompanied by a substitution with Gilbert Webb
entering for Jeftić. Webb's entry would be held up, however, due to a fracas on the other side of the pitch. Apparently, Ter Berg had lashed a leg out at Barry Nakamura after being grounded, a gesture that the latter didn't appreciate. Swedish referee Milton Pettersson would calm both down before consulting his linesman... which resulted in a second yellow card for Kalle ter Berg
The match was only about to get much more interesting, as The EV scored on the ten-man Grilled team shortly afterwards. Yeoh Cheng Lai was left with a lot of room to operate with, given that Muthyala and Bilal were patrolling territory meant for three, and Yeoh would make a dash towards his right in the 63rd minute. Nobody was eager to pick him up, and this led to a precise inbound pass that Zbyněk Ševeček flipped past Massoud Dob
The EV had to believe that they could take something from this now, and it was probably just as well that Chan Ze Han
made the most of Wu Jinglong
's delivery in the 79th, putting forehead to cross for a textbook header to ground. The remaining time belonged to the visitors, with a determined Nakamura assault only halted by Webb's brave last-man sliding tackle, and Dob then did his part by deflecting Fiorilli's excellent free-kick towards the end.