Chan Crashes Party
It was not the prettiest of Birds classics, but today's 2-1 home victory over Crypto Moon was exactly what they needed, in their push for a third S-League title. If it had not come through, however, Grilled would frankly have had no-one to blame but themselves, after allowing a host of big chances to go begging.
Crypto Moon had lost their last three league games after an explosive introduction to the S-League, but as Bakhtiar warned before the game, none of those were all that clear-cut. Some very good sides have been frustrated by Robbie Football Club, and had Zacharias Troch not been sent off towards the end, they might very well have gotten something against United at Old Trafford. Current league top scorer and birthday boy Joël Bastien would share some criticism for his tame showing against Haha, admittedly, but his finish in Crypto's 2-5 loss to the Birds earlier in the season, should do much to remind Grilled of the very real danger he continues to pose.
Grilled would have Bilal Mohammad Harun
back, if only on the bench for now, with Kalle ter Berg
reportedly maybe a week away from his own return. This meant a central midfield of Chu, Moey and Teo once more, with Heng Dong Chu
getting the nod on the left, and Wu Jinglong
left out in favour of Salah Kamel
on the other flank. Kalki Parvathaneni
might not have made it either, but from the hearty reception that he received from the stands as his name was announced, the supporters hadn't forgotten his recent exploits for the club.
Attention would turn to the on-pitch happenings soon enough, as Grilled wasted no time in feeling their visitors out. Heng Dong Chu
in particular ran at Salvador Ramos every opportunity he had, once he got behind Stanton Smalley-Mace, and his first pass into the box would be hit by Vikram Mudaliar
into Spanish goalkeeper Ismaèl Caymaris's torso. Crypto Moon didn't seem to fully comprehend Heng's threat just yet, and would come to rue it as his next, looping cross would be found by Moey Xin Seng
's courageous diving header. Moey would have his forehead raked by Maxwell Whitehead's studs for his pains, but the Grilled captain has never begrudged putting his body on the line for the cause.
It could have been more, as Mudaliar turned rapidly on bringing down Chu's lobbed ball next, right into Ralph van Elven's outstretched leg. It seemed a pretty soft penalty to be awarded in all honesty, not that Cameroon referee Paul Soppo would gain many detractors in the audience for it. Justice was perhaps served, then, when Mateja Jeftić
sent Caymaris the wrong way with a halting approach, only to then send it flashing past the other goalpost.
The Dutch centreback could afford a wry smile with Grilled still ahead, but Crypto Moon's adaptation to the circumstances suggested that he might come to regret the miss. The visitors would transition to staying deep with only Bastien staying top, a formation in which they were well capable of strangling the game for long periods. Teo Chuan Yong
's patience ran out in the 18th minute, leading to a hopeless shot from distance, that Crypto answered with a long pass out to Ken Takasaki. Douglas Carapaica
recognized the danger, thankfully for Grilled, and the Panamanian would direct Takasaki harmlessly out wide.
Crypto Moon were really not doing badly at all otherwise as they clogged the middle effectively, much of it thanks to skipper Adrian Pânzari knowing exactly when and how to mess play up when needed. Grilled remained doing almost all of the creating, that said, and Crypto had a lucky break of their own, when Chan Ze Han
turned the ball back off the post, from Bernie Egan
's leaving it for him. Worse, Heng would be completely caught out as Smalley-Mace had the run of his flank on the counter, and Ralph van Elven's workrate in keeping pace with his winger's advance would pay off big time. One-all.
Further spice would be injected into the contest as Bastien hacked Chan Ze Han
's legs from under him as he made to dribble past his opposite number on kick-off, and more than a few on either team seemed to be spoiling for confrontation at that. It took cooler heads to separate the factions, as Soppo pulled out the yellow for Bastien, which was probably the fair verdict for the initial foul.
Crypto Moon would take great pleasure in protecting the draw thereafter, as they doubled down on their defence and depth - and time-wasting, daresay - in the second half, to great consternation from most of the fans in attendance. Not so their own supporters, who evidently saw a point as a more than acceptable haul from The Cooking Pot. Despite being roundly outnumbered amongst the over 87,000 here today, the Moonies would certainly make themselves heard, as their players kept up the anti-football down there.
Jeftić might well have his penalty miss replaying in his head as he went off for Gilbert Webb
as part of a double substitution with ten minutes remaining, as a cheer went up for Bilal Mohammad Harun
's return. Grilled were, after all, not entirely strangers to late rallies, as last week's against The EV proved. The subs did indeed again breathe fresh life into the team, and Heng would get it to Bernie Egan
despite being mobbed on the left, but the Irishman would swing it agonizingly wide from the corner of the six-yard box.
The visitors would have little time to count their blessings as the Birds continued their assault, what with Bilal very clearly looking for excuses to take a shot from deep. Whether this contributed to the Crypto backline coming up a bit is hard to tell, but there was no doubting that Chan Ze Han
had more space than at any time before, when Heng - Grilled's main attacking engine today - did his work down the left. Ramos seemed to have stopping a cross as his top priority, and this allowed Heng to slip inside with a little feint... and sidefoot a clear invitation for Chan to shoot. Chan picked his spot high at the near post, as Caymaris threw his arm up an instant too late.
Other than this, Grilled's wastefulness in goal had barely changed, as Bernie Egan
was put through only to blast it over from eight yards, when it seemed easier to find the target. It did remain Crypto Moon's job to earn their point back, though, which they never came close to, and Hilal Bakhtiar
was only too happy to stick the boot in with a drawn-out substitution involving Wu Jinglong
and Salah Kamel