Close But No Control
The Birds will have to be disappointed at having dropped two more points against a Controlar side that they largely contained, with the Woodlands club not having been easy pickings for Grilled these couple of years. It had taken a great strike from Joe Reece
to take them down in the previous meeting, and while the Welshman absolutely played out of his skin today, his uncertain finishing was deflating as he ended the match on two, when it might have been easily thrice that.
The post-season had seen Controlar divest themselves of veterans Marko Nisstrand and Masato Ezure, both of whom had played big roles in their team, and it would be Hong Kong central defender Au Weili to take over the leadership role for today - if with Hans Hendrik Biskopstø and David Ramos still coming along well. Grilled would field their usual league lineup, and if any of the fans were having trouble staying awake this sleepy Sunday afternoon, they would be jolted by Chad Thach
's crazy blind dribbling in front of this own goal, which had Chai Tian Tian nicking it inches wide of the post, in just the second minute.
was not shy in giving Thach several earfuls once the dust had cleared, and there would be some ready distractions, thankfully for the careless Birds midfielder. The Controlar supporters hadn't forgotten how Joe Reece
had done them in previously, having scored in the last three iterations of this fixture, but their whistling could have seemed slightly premature from how Reece has struggled to score thus far this season. Their fears proved prescient, though, as Reece flashed up the left in line with Federico Parada
in the fifth minute, and lashed it past Pedro Vasco Conceição Correia with his maiden attempt.
The gallery would explode in celebration at that, but it was then the Birds' fans turn to be taken down a notch, as Controlar gave as good as they got, with Paulino Faladoiro dancing to the inside, then the outside of Brian Reddy
, to have Pau Calleja squeeze one between Germanakos and his near post. Reece then crossed meaningfully towards Phua Ming Xin
on his next possession, which brought plenty of panic as Correia couldn't hold onto the ball, but it was eventually cleared.
There would be a long lull as Controlar exerted themselves more strongly, and their newfound combativeness had Grilled repelled for a while. Hans Hendrik Biskopstø was treading on thin ice with a completely out of hand barge into Aw Keng Chuan
, however, and after the booking, the Birds regained the initiative. This would see Reece almost overrunning Correia in the 25th minute, and he would then drag one invitingly across goal two minutes later, that Phua slid in a fraction too late for.
That it stayed one-one at half-time had to be selling Grilled a little short, as Tian Yonghang
's face indicated when his men filed past him en route to the dressing room. Controlar were holding well - and continued to do so, with Tan Keng Kwang outshining his rather more storied Grilled counterparts all too often. After another attack stopped by Tan in the 56th minute, Controlar saw a path open up, and Au Weili took full advantage with a smooth change of direction to throw the defenders off, before burying it at the far post for 1-2!
The away fans could not resist rubbing it in as Grilled struggled to find their rhythm, and all that possession was coming to naught with their playmakers locked into all-too-predictable patterns. There had to be some sweaty brows amongst the green contingent with fewer than twenty minutes remaining, but Reece would then pop up with an energetic rush at goal, with Tong Yi Chuan neck and neck. Dropping it to Phua Ming Xin
seemed the wiser decision, but Reece carried on, and proved himself right with a slick, almost nonchalent chip to make it all evens.
Reece then missed an incredible change to write his name in the headlines with a hat-trick winner, as he threw himself wholesale into meeting Brian Reddy
's pacy cross in mid-air, when it had to be so much simpler to take it down to pick his spot. One could hardly fault his instincts from taking over, though, when they had played such a huge part in his two goals today. Reddy then had his own wasted moment as he fired too close to Correia from six yards, and it was surely too much to ask of Chan Ze Han
to again turn it around in two minutes when he came on.