Grilled Birds 1 - 1 [2 - 4 p.k] Haha
Happy As A Lark
Chan Makes Statement
It might have been some years since the Birds were rubbing shoulders regularly with Haha in the S-League, but they would fare surprisingly well against the reigning Cup holders, despite being two divisions down. English head coach Steven Twomey had gone the transfer route in keeping his squad competitive, which greatly shortened their stay in II.2. Latest signing Ali Morad Toufighi would be out after sustaining a freak shoulder dislocation early on in his debut against -= Manchester United =- last weekend, but in any case many of their stars, such as Klas Bernhardsson, were not called into service today.
What remained was still a formidable XI designed to progress with as little effort as possible, given Haha's drive towards a first S-League title, and Twomey would devise a 4-5-1 with this in mind. German forward Max Kandlhofer would be deployed to do what he could targeting Grilled's weak defence, with most of the shielding and creative work falling on their central midfield, revolving around former national U-20 playmaker Ooi Ming Hock.
The narrow positioning of wingers Syamsir Indra Putra and Linus Christiansson was mirrored by the Birds, who had Brian Reddy
resuming his right wing role as vice-captain, previous indiscretions apparently forgiven. Paulino Trindade
took up the other flank, with a great burden expected to be placed on sole defensive midfielder Aw Keng Chuan
. Chan Ze Han
's arrival would bring some cheers from those gathered at Love Street Stadium, some of whom might remember the last time he scored against Haha, in a 2-0 league victory seven seasons ago.
The general opinion was for a clear victory by a Haha side that had won their last eight, but as the minutes went past, it became evident that this was going to be more of a slog than imagined. If Haha were counting on the Birds opening themselves up in their haste to score, they would be mistaken, with Grilled mindful of safety as their first priority. They would secure the first free-kick within range of goal after plenty of probing in the 27th minute, with Chia Kwang Tse
going down to Konrad Wawer's pressure only once a foul was certain.
Nothing came of that free-kick after it was floated unconvincingly towards the box by Teo Chuan Yong
, but Chia wasn't done as he attacked Trindade's deep cross several minutes later. The Birds were piling on now, and Teo had a strong piledriver from eight yards barely warded off by César Gurruchaga next. This was building to something surely, and it came from the corner, with Gurruchaga again getting his fingertips to Aw Keng Chuan
's flashy header. Chan had planted his boot in roughly the same space by instinct, though, and it was 1-0!
The Birds fans went crazy at Chan's divine toepoke, but kudos to Haha, they kept their cool brilliantly. All going behind brought was some additional urgency, with Twomey having a wealth of reserves to draw on if required, and they would be back level within eight minutes in any case. Brian Reddy
was caught in a straight race with Linus Christiansson, who got the ball to Adham Nedal as he entered the penalty area. Nedal made as if to square it back with Teo standing off... only to chip it past Dimitris Germanakos
with breathtaking chutzpah.
Chan would try to extinguish Haha's newfound confidence with a cracking volley on his next attempt just before half-time, but it sailed over the bar, if close enough to have Gurruchaga sincerely concerned. That was also the end of Chan's involvement, as he was replaced by Phua Ming Xin
for the remainder of the match, in a quite unpopular decision by Tian. That said, Phua would provide Grilled's frontline a different kind of threat, with the Haha defence not daring to sit as high as they had when Chan was there.
would also replace Teo in the double substitution with the armband now going to Reddy, who pinged a fine low cross to Aw in the 56th minute, again ably met by the Haha custodian. Brunei icon Danial bin Nali then came on for Konrad Wawer in midfield as Twomey finally acknowledged that he had a real contest on his hands, but this was still not quite sufficient for Haha to seize the upper hand. Instead, there would be a flurry of decent efforts by Grilled Birds towards the end, with Phua, Gandhik Chitre
and finally Hwang Teck Fu
battling manfully for what would have been a newsworthy winner.
None such would arrive, sadly, and it was Haha who seemed the more composed and in control, as the additional half-hour arrived. Nedal would make his bid to be Haha's undisputed hero of the day as he threw himself at Danial's forward lob in the 97th minute, but that was asking too much, as his left-footed swing couldn't find proper purchase. On the Birds' end, Aw would try a few pushes carrying the ball up, but was repelled each time, and Chitre then drew come premature celebrations as his solid hit rippled the side-netting.
The final ten minutes had all players basically settling for penalties, and after Reddy won the coin flip against Chua Ze Xin, Phua Ming Xin
took responsibility for the first take... and sidefooted it calmly across Gurruchaga's leap, into the opposite left corner. Chua did similar against Germanakos, and after Gandhik Chitre
's cheeky jitter-and-strike and Danial bin Nali's nerveless curler into the top right, the Birds were still well in the mix.
Unfortunately, it started to fall apart about then, with there being a slight delay with none of the remaining Grilled players apparently too eager to be next. Eventually Hwang Teck Fu
would offer himself bravely, only to swing it inches past the left post. Max Kandlhofer's confident finish only piled the pressure on Paulino Trindade
, who hit it badly at Gurruchaga, and Syamsir Indra Putra waited for Germanakos to commit to send Haha through.