Knockout So Sweet
Fast Hans Fast Legs
The Birds' winning streak - and position at the top of the table - would be demolished today by Controlar at their Sweet Science Arena, the first win that the reigning Singapore Consolation Cup champions had attained over Grilled Birds in five attempts. Longtime Polish gaffer Piotr Kolberg had reformed Controlar into a very respectable force on their day, under the calm on-pitch guidance of local captain Masato Ezure, as FC Air Hydrous discovered to their detriment in the Consolation Cup final earlier this month.
Tan Keng Kwang, whose brace won it for his club then, was present today in midfield, but his recent performances had honestly been shaded by many of his teammates; Marko Nisstrand had been a firebrand down the right wing, for one, with Faroese striker Hans Hendrik Biskopstø also gaining much recognition for his movement in the box, even if the returns have not been exceptional yet. Tian Yonghang
would drop Chad Thach
for this match, fearing overexposure, and it would be Chia Kwang Tse
and Mohd Marzuki Khairul
to fill the coveted starting midfield spots for once, together with Lim An Keng
The Birds had won 4-0 in the home fixture, but Controlar wasted no time in serving notice of their ambitions, with David Ramos attacking Dimitris Germanakos
with intent from kick-off, and getting the finish only slightly off-centre. It was soon evident that the visitors were in trouble, and little more so than when Damian Hutter
was caught elbowing Paulino Faladoiro in the ribs, as the winger pushed the ball past him. The penalty was given after replays showed that the offence was committed in the penalty area, but Ezure was too restrained with his hit down the middle, and Germanakos called his bluff.
The Controlar fans didn't take that very well, and it all seemed to be going wrong for them, with young Uzbek referee Rustambek Fayzullayev then showing Faladoiro the yellow card, for flattening Egemen Dinçer Ferzan
. Loud queries from the stands as to why the same had not been given to Hutter were ignored, and in any case they would have a new outrage to pursue, as Chan Ze Han
delicately backheeled it through for Joe Reece
to run onto - and score. That the timing and execution was exquisite was beyond debate, although some might have thought that Pedro Vasco Conceição Correia could have done better in coming out earlier.
Controlar might have sunk at this point, but Correia would hold firm against Grilled's abrupt flurry of attacks. Reece would be at it again as Khairul feinted one way before lifting it towards him, and there was little to be nitpicked about his diving header, though it was pushed aside by the pouncing goalie. Au Weili could only scuff it to Chia Kwang Tse
under immense pressure from Tokarz, and Correia would be called upon again to block the volley, for a wonderful double save!
The hosts got an early second wind at this point, perhaps buoyed by their goalkeeper's heroics, and Nisstrand would give Paulino Trindade
a lesson in decisive dribbling on the right side. Hutter would do well to screen Ramos out on this occasion, but Biskopstø had arrested his run simultaneously, and a tiny touch from Ezure was sufficient for him to get behind Aw Keng Chuan
with a spin. Germanakos moved instantly, but the finish to the far post was just too accurate. One-all.
Lim An Keng
had not done enough in the eyes of Tian, who threw Hwang Teck Fu
on for him at the start of the second half, but it would only go further downhill for the Birds. There didn't seem to be any problem when Tong Yi Chuan started strolling with the ball about thirty yards out, but once he accelerated past Chia and upped the pace further, there was no stopping him. The available Birds defenders stood off to cover the forwards instead, and were left regretting it as Tong picked his spot, and buried it with his magic wand of a right foot.
That was the kind of goal that a player might score once or twice in a long career, and Tong knew it as he wheeled off to bask in the supporters' adulation. Kolberg was on his feet soon enough to remind his men to keep their heads, and just as well as Grilled mounted perhaps their best attacking series of passes several minutes later. Joe Reece
had been the Birds' most active forward by some distance, and he looked certain to equalize upon rounding Correia on a close-cut Ferzan cross... only for Pau Calleja to dispossess him from his blind side.
That earned the wingback some appreciative headpats from Correia, but they were not entirely out of the woods yet, with the Birds remaining quite persistent. Orest Tokarz
had been particularly hungry, and his implacable style would see him harass the Controlar backline terribly, 71 minutes in. Tokarz surprised somewhat with a more-technical side to his game as he cut to the side with his final touch to set up the lob, but Au Weili had kept his concentration, and his body in the way.
The deflection fell cleanly for Iranian rightback Hesam Ferdos, and the break was on. Controlar had spared few reserves for this, and the fans sensed blood as Ferdos and Nisstrand overran Grilled's flankers, before transferring it to an entirely-unattended Paulino Faladoiro on the other wing. Germanakos had no choice but to abandon his line to confront Faladoiro, and who would it be but Au to complete the move, as he gleefully tucked the resulting sitter home.
Chan Ze Han
knew that Grilled had a mountain to climb now, with his expression betraying his thoughts for once. Controlar knew how to shut the game down, unfortunately, all the more so when they had no need to take any further risks - and they had the full approval of over fifty thousand fans backing them on this. Kalki Parvathaneni
and then Bhavya Panigrahi
took over from Tokarz and Aw respectively without much of a splash, with Controlar holding very firm indeed.
And then, drama. Trindade was sizing Ferdos up on the left, when the cameras cut back to a mass of players either shoving each other, or more level-headedly trying to prevent the same, near the centre of the field. It would take a full-on invasion by both benches to quell the ruckus, and Fayzullayev would then retire to the sidelines to confer with his assistants for some minutes, to try and ascertain the cause. Eventually, the red card would be given to Tong for his sparking the entire affair off by raking Khairul's calves from behind after what he felt was illegal holding, but that did not diminish the goalscorer's standing with the fans, some of whom gave him a standing ovation as he left clapping his defiance.
That left the Birds some four minutes and injury time to salvage the match, and it could not be said that they did not give it their best. Joe Reece
appeared to have done it when the home defence inexplicably tried to catch him offside, not having noticed Nisstrand being unable to recover on the touchline - but Reece lost control at the critical moment, and tapped it weakly to a grateful Correia. Hans Hendrik Biskopstø then got booked too as he joined in on the box-cramming, as Controlar played out probably their second most-appreciated victory of this season.