Nothing But Air
FC Air Hydrous executed their counterattacking gameplan to perfection against a tactically-inflexible Grilled Birds, and ran away 5-1 winners in their Consolation Cup clash. Bearded Azerbaijani striker İlham Novruzov effectively ended the game as a contest within the first half an hour, as he carved the Birds' defensive partnership of Mangoye and Hutter apart, with an instinctive sense of when to make a break for it.
With five straight wins behind them, FC Air Hydrous had not looked at all vulnerable since crashing out of the Ruby Challenger Cup to Pearl Divers, and even that was down to head coach Pål Husmo playing his second team in an unfamiliar formation. They would be back in their 5-2-3 as directed by Sakin Donat for today, and with Moey Xin Seng
starting on the bench, too much of the offensive burden had been placed on Chan Ze Han
- who would be entirely smothered by having two men put on him.
Having all but given up on contesting midfield, Hydrous were clearly banking it all on transitioning between defence and attack with minimal reliance on middlemen - and they turned out to be excellent at it. This involved precise long passing and intelligent off-the-ball running from their forward line, both of which they possessed in spades. Bilal Mohammad Harun
's hopeful punt into the ground would be returned at the Birds in the tenth minute, and Novruzov's ball control would see him dribble it inside, with Hutter never quite getting close enough, to score.
Grilled attempted to go with some bombardment of their own, but their opponents were just too dominant in the air, inside their own box. It wouldn't take long for the Birds to regret it either, as they were caught out on another counter within two minutes; Jens von Appen-Keilholz took a free-kick immediately as referee Richard Aussems played an advantage, leading to red faces for Manuel Vadalà
as the goalkeeper was found unprepared. Novruzov then converted a similar goal to his first in the 28th minute, with an outfoxed Mangoye his victim on this occasion.
Novruzov's contributions would not be limited to sticking it in the net either, as he proved a willing tracker from the front, with Grilled's players feeling the bite of his tackles only too often. This went overboard with a two-footed slide in on Gandhik Chitre
in the 32nd, however, for which he was lucky to stay on. Grilled would restart and enter a careful build-up after some post-foul shoving, and Kalki Parvathaneni
broke through on the left to curl one past current national youth goalkeeper Shaquille Thao.
Thao proved impregnable otherwise, to Grilled's dismay, and Mohd Marzuki Khairul
's entry mid-game for Chia did nothing to improve the Birds' prospects. They were instead put under further pressure by Hydrous' well-timed counters, with Aw Keng Chuan
busted in the 54th minute, for taking Jens von Appen-Keilholz down before he could continue a move. Any last hopes that Grilled had of forcing extra time were effectively extinguished when Raemon Heijltjes vaulted Hutter in the 72nd minute, to grab a fourth.
Kalki would then see himself out of contention of Sunday's league fixture with his third yellow of the season, as he crashed into Tomas Cervellone more out of clumsiness than malice, after 74 minutes. This ironically turned out to be the most serious injury that any Hydrous player sustained for the day, but Cervellone's replacement Gioacchino Troncon would get his own back by scoring in the 81st, with Moey Xin Seng
barely having set foot on the grass after coming on for a largely quiet Bilal.
With the match sewn up, Turkish skipper Donat could go off knowing of a job well done, with Haiko Lazar entering in his place. Mangoye's exit for Panigrahi would have somewhat less accomplishment behind it, but the pace had slowed to a crawl anyhow.