Manning Up A Tad
Hadi Near Hero
-= Manchester United =- had not won any of their last eight meetings against the Birds, moreover losing seven of those, in an abject turnaround for Grilled's former boogeyman club that had beaten them in six of their first seven matchups. However, some of that old voodoo would return today, as United scraped a home draw at Old Trafford.
United had of course suffered a cursed beginning to last season, losing their opening four fixtures, which looked like ending Przemysław Kuziemski's tenure especially after the fourth one to RFC. Kuziemski hung on, however, as they impressively clambered back to finish the campaign in fourth. They continued to have no answer to Haha in a 1-4 defeat last Sunday, which also saw Polish striker Paweł Święcicki start his last for the club, before his S$10 million move out to Iranian Division Four side tehranpars f.c.
It was not as if United were especially starved of options up front, and last season's big signing Marcelino Fiore would feature in his trademark withdrawn forward role on the right, with the aim of feeding main man Horst Friedrich Dalen. Kuziemski would otherwise have a full squad to pick from, as did Hilal Bakhtiar
. For better or worse, he would keep faith with Bhavya Panigrahi
at the back, along with a little reshuffling - Mudaliar would return to playing the point flanked by Chan and Abd Hadi, with Salah Kamel
wide right instead of the failed Heng Dong Chu
One could get some pretty generous odds on a scoreless draw if they were of a mind to, but a quick glance at the history of this fixture would suggest that a fool's errand; a minimum of two goals had been scored in each of the eighteen times it had been run, with an average of slightly over six goals, a mark that would be barely missed today.
The clubs were only too familiar with each other, what with Pierre-Étienne Marguet for the departed Święcicki being the only change in United's lineup, since their 1-4 loss at The Cooking Pot to give Grilled their third S-League title. Goals there might well be, but caution would be the watchword for now, with the hosts having the better of the initial possession. They weren't doing much with it yet though, with Jahid Abdul Rahman often opting to pass it back to his defenders at the first sign of trouble, and the Birds were willing enough to let them have it that way.
This equilibrium was clearly not about to last for much longer, with it not being in either team's nature to faff about indefinitely, and the first shot on target would come off a free-kick in the 21st minute, if indirectly. This was probably just inside Marguet's range, but the Frenchman would instead elect to hang it high in the region behind the wall. Sim Chin Chi got to it, and his header back across goal was going straight to Dalen, but Jānis Salmiņš
denied him the sitter with a long left arm.
Sim would then get himself into a terrible studs-up tackle on Kalki Parvathaneni
as they faced off down the left, which was a red going by the book. Young Italian referee Beppino Calzolari was in a forgiving mood, though, and settled for a yellow. The Birds would thus have to feel shortchanged as Sim promptly went right back to business running interference in the middle, which had Dalen hold Sølve Lunde
off to slice the opener home.
That was the signal for the free-for-all to begin, as everyone had expected, and Kalki would make a lightning breakthrough soon after kick-off, only to be denied by Izydor Tovtuk's firm block. That was an extremely busy flank, definitely, with Sim's turn up next, but Jahid Abdul Rahman would be caught ball-watching as a wonderful delivery whizzed by. At this, Grilled would switch their focus across to their right, and it worked as Chu Xin Lee
took Beau Gilmont out of contention with some exquisite short interplay, which left Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
plenty of room to open his league account.
There was a pretty reliable rhythm to the game now, and it was going United's way next. Salah Kamel
would follow Sim into the referee's book as he sent Marguet crashing into the advertising hoardings, which afforded United the opportunity to set up for a long throw-in. Viktor Saunov would execute it well enough, and although Lunde knocked it clear, it would be duly returned to Ejler Haugaard on the outskirts of the penalty area. Bilal Mohammad Harun
didn't want to get too close as the Norwegian forward broke into a mad dribble, and it would be capped by an amazing flip past a bewildered Salmiņš for 2-1. The replays would be repeated a few more times than normal, as the commentators themselves struggled to figure out what happened.
Well, they would have a lot of time to dissect it during half-time, which also saw the disappointing Bhavya Panigrahi
subbed off for Gilbert Webb
. While he was by no means the disaster that he was last week, Panigrahi had never looked very assured, and Webb could hardly have done any worse. The Scotsman's composure would help Grilled quite a bit, especially down the right side, as it turned out. Kamel could attack with greater confidence now, and he would tease an ambitious through ball to the near post in the 54th minute - that Abd Hadi proved himself equal to.
Bakhtiar had compared Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
to Chan Ze Han
after his tournament exploits, and such comparisons are seeming less and less of an exaggeration, as the days go on. Chan was only too happy to congratulate Abd Hadi at that, and there was the growing sense that it was the Birds' game to win now. Bilal, now also infected with conviction, hit his patented long drive at goal in the 61st minute, that had Tovtuk struggle a little in saving. United were not to be outdone, and Haugaard edged into the box on the return, only to pull his finish wide.
Kalki would be next off as Bakhtiar ordered Heng Dong Chu
to run at a slowing Sim Chin Chi, and Grilled would finally enter the lead for the first time, in the 74th minute. Good work by Chan Ze Han
had won them a corner, but Webb had yet to take it, when the match had to be stopped amidst a huge commotion in front of goal. Vikram Mudaliar
was flat on the grass nursing a bleeding lip, and the video assistant would find that he had been elbowed, if likely unknowingly, by Aleixo Cruzul. That was a penalty, and Webb would migrate from the corner flag to the penalty spot. There would be a further long delay as the call was contested, but the unflappable fellow would simply hit it hard to the right post after all was said and done.
The Birds' hard-won advantage lasted all of fifty seconds, sadly, and it would be Pierre-Étienne Marguet to get United back in it. Fifteen minutes seemed a reasonable amount of time for Grilled to weather it out in defence for the points, but in another repeat lesson, they would fall prey to United's first serious foray. Again, there would be a glaring lack of volunteers seeking to pick Marguet up as he roved about the head of the box, and there was no getting to the resulting curler.
Then again, it so so easily have been a Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
hat-trick to seal the deal, as United likewise goofed on defence, to gift Grilled a free-kick in a dangerous position. For this, Webb skipped over it, and Bilal appeared certain to blast it, only to poke it lightly across for Abd Hadi at the last instant. This did indeed clear out most of United's players, or at least all but Dejan Skrt, who had seen though the gambit. Abd Hadi did manage to dodge his fierce lunge, but the glorious opening was lost, and he would have to settle for an improvised rabona that flew much too high.
That would be it despite no lack of graft from Grilled towards the end, and Atang Mangoye
's S-League debut in the final minute would alas not be the lucky charm that their fans were hoping against hope for.