Grilled Birds 2 - 0 Haha
Rejoicing In Adversity
Leadership Steps Up
Grilled Birds arrested their slide with a fine 2-0 home wing against Haha, for whom which The Cooking Pot has proven an unbreachable fortress, as they failed to win as has been the case for the previous six visits. Given that they had a very winnable Singapore Cup final coming up, however, one figures that their attention might well be better placed elsewhere.
Of course, as their fans had been singing about throughout, a double - as last achieved by the Birds - was not out of the question, from how they had been doing in the league stakes thus far. Before this, only surprise leaders Villains F.C. had managed to beat them, with Fringeheads just about managing a stalemate on their own ground. Granted, their four victories were moreover not as dominating as they might have liked, despite Salah Abd El Razzak's flexibility in adapting his formation and tactics to the circumstances.
Today's main orders would soon be clear: stop Chan Ze Han
at all costs. Not only did El Razzak go for a 5-4-1, he would set Aw Tian Jin on Chan, with the converted midfielder shackling the Grilled star for all he was worth. This was an intriguing duel to watch indeed, and Chan would be the first to achieve the upper hand, in the sixth minute. He appeared well and truly out of options with both Aw and Fatin Belaîdi in close attendance, but that would be an illusion; a subtle touch here, a reverse spin there, and Chan had blown past Belaîdi... only to clip his finish just shy of Giuseppe Teani's near post.
That brought a loud cheer from what remained of the home crowd, with the attendance totalling a very disappointing forty-thousand odd, after the losses of the previous few weeks. They would give as good as they got from the boisterous travelling fans, at least, as the match remained up in the air. Aw would be the unlikely recepient of a through ball in the 26th, having remained upfield after bearing the brunt of a beefy check by Sølve Lunde
. A save by Teani off Moey would spark a breakaway and quickly-taken free-kick, but Aw's composure failed him.
Chan Ze Han
got the message - that the Birds had better make their possession and chances count soon - and he would score on his next opportunity. Grilled were dictating the pace of the game now, but they had a very stubborn low block to contend with, and it would take more smarts from Chan to make his way through. Having predicted both Bilal Mohammad Harun
's pass and his markers' reaction, Chan beat the latter to the punch with a sudden pull towards the ball, and again turned his defender neatly. Lim Jie Feng would battle to recover, but Chan would drill it into the net before he could close back in fully.
The game was really heating up, and Aw would again somehow find himself in the position of being the furthest man up front, as he supported Heuze's counterattack after Mudaliar's scuffed effort. Aw was no finisher, sadly for Haha, and the ball was soon back deep in their own half, with former national U-20 fullback Chua Ze Xin settling for a corner against Shekar Kannan
. This didn't help, as Panigrahi delivered it in an awkward area for the goalie to venture, and Moey Xin Seng
withstood all comers to head it powerfully to the far side of goal.
That was 2-0, and also how the half ended, with Vikram Mudaliar
promptly boxed out after getting into a good position in the 36th minute, which would be Grilled's only remaining chance of note. The second half had Heng Dong Chu
off for Teo Chuan Yong
as Hilal Bakhtiar
clearly sought to solidify the team's lead, although that actually hardly slowed Grilled's generation of openings down. Moey would be released down the left in the 52nd minute, and put it barely over the bar, before the offside call.
El Razzak would realize that time was running out, and ordered his wingers to attack more, but the trouble was that they were simply not getting enough of the ball. Moey would be next to make an exit, and he would embrace Chan and hand the captain's armband over, before a high-five with the incoming Salah Kamel
. This substitution took place as Bhavya Panigrahi
lined up a free-kick, which would be tipped over by Teani without too much fuss.
Chua Ze Xin would then be shown the yellow card after one grab too much on Kannan, as El Razzak finally made his chance: Heuze off for Spanish striker Félix Valdayo. Logically, Valdayo's fresh legs should have given Grilled's defence worry, especially after Heuze had mostly been acting as a midfielder for his seventy-five minutes on the pitch. Instead, however, it was the Birds who continued flooding Haha's penalty area, with an ambitious but way-off Kamel volley followed by Abd Hadi Taib Mazhud
seeing his winding shot deflected by the referee - but not quite enough to throw the goalkeeper off.
That would be Add Hadi's last touch of the ball too, with him being replaced by Kalki Parvathaneni
for the remaining ten minutes and change, as Grilled were well satisfied with what had worked so far. These minutes were largely uneventful, though Valdayo did get past Panigrahi in injury time. The almost-untested Jānis Salmiņš
rose to the challenge nicely, and protected his clean sheet with a good, long spring to the side in time.