Hutter At The Death
Given that Phantasm Hotspurs' latest hosting of Grilled Birds - barely two years past - had them destroy the Birds 6-0, anything less would have to be an improvement. With much of both teams unchanged since that day, this had to be a grudge match of sorts, and one that the Hotspurs nearly emerged victorious from again. Grilled had become made of sterner stuff since then, however, and saved a point at the last possible moment.
would be an obvious - and unexplained - omission for the Birds, as Egemen Dinçer Ferzan
was chosen instead, with orders to reinforce the centre. The hosts for their parts made some notable changes, with Prince Huang and Kwek Rong Wei, so effective against Grilled then, dropped. Yee Tse Tong had a deep squad to pick from, however, and it came good almost instantly, with Amar Ikmal Awal nodding the first cross of the day - by Foong Seng Wee - into the bottom corner, in a drive-by shooting.
Quite a few of the spectators had not even found their seats, with two minutes only just flashing on the stadium clock, and there would be some suspense as Italian referee Leonardo Andrisani confirmed whether Awal was onside, which he was. Tian Yonghang
was not convinced, but wisely held his tongue, as the Birds threw themselves into correcting the deficit. By the sixth minute, they had maneuvered Mohd Marzuki Khairul
into a promising positing on the right side of the box, but Abhishek Mundra made sure that Marzuki was not able to get a clean hit there.
Phantasm Hotspurs were defending with renewed purpose now, and the Birds would have few sniffs, the pick of those being Orest Tokarz
's wallop in the 27th minute that was barely diverted by Sidqi Ghani. Left winger Eng Chi Wei would then pick up a yellow card for downing Ferzan, and the free-kick would see Ghani first save again from Phua Ming Xin
, before Awal nearly caught the Birds with pants down on the counter. Dimitris Germanakos
was never getting to his excellent strike, and was lucky it went inches wide.
The second half had Hotspurs try to spring a fast one on the Birds again, who were not expecting such an active stance from the hosts. Koh Ping Beng made good ground past Grilled's indifferent tracking before they realized that he posed a real and present danger, but by then Koh had found Bok Wee Jian breaking away from Damian Hutter
. It was Germanakos to the rescue, then, with a massive diving stop that kept the Birds in contention.
Tokarz would be next to find himself in the referee's book as the match turned nastier, with Grilled now under time pressure, and Hotspurs returning as good as they got. The supporters could not mistake the amount of desire on show, as players from both teams threw themselves into challenges, as when Phua forced another reflex save from Ghani in the 59th minute. Andrisani had spotted Eng hauling Joe Reece
back illegally in the build-up, however, and gave the Hotspurs skipper his marching orders.
This had to be a great boost to Grilled's hopes, but as they discovered when the home team nearly punished from on a Lim Kang Woon free-kick after Reece's strike was cleared long, breaking a ten-man Hotspurs team down was not as easy as might have been thought either. Seconds turned into long minutes as the Birds sieged Ghani's goal, seemingly to less and less pronounced impact.
It all appeared over when Chan Ze Han
came on for Joe Reece
right before injury time, but as it turned out, the wily old fox had his tricks yet. Holding it up while daring contact, Chan would convincingly lure most of the Hotspurs defence towards his right side, before reversing it for Damian Hutter
to take a potshot from ten yards... which crept in. The home fans could not believe their eyes at having let the win slip through their fingers, and the Birds were not even done yet, with Chad Thach
trying his luck with an exaggerated fall as he forced his way into the penalty area, for which he received the fourth yellow card of the game.