Do Not Discount
Vúlchanov Leads Recovery
The EV trundled on in their quest for the title, as they overcame Grilled 4-2 at The Cooking Pot, after the Birds had started the day off very brightly. Bulgarian Metodi Vúlchanov thrived after the visitors intelligently switched up to a cross-heavy game, which combined with Grilled's comparative wastefulness, condemned the hosts to a third league defeat.
Jochen Martens had constructed an exceptionally fluid side during his four seasons at The EV thus far, and judging from their lack of transfer activity over the past season, his vision was near fruition. It definitely would have seemed that way to their opponents these few months, as their Mario Velasco-led side romped to ten consecutive wins going into today's test.
The last club to have beaten them in a competitive environment were, as it happened, Grilled, who managed a 6-3 in the corresponding fixture last season. With the core of that side now replaced with rather less experienced personnel, though, it was an open question if a repeat was on the cards.
The Birds had hit a small patch of form after all, though, and they were all fire and spirit in the early going; the midfield more than made up for its average decision-making with raw vigour, which left The EV's players with precious little time to think on their feet. They had little problem with teasing out opportunities ranging along the outside of The EV's box, and Gennady Dvorak
's beautiful chip in the 14th minute opened it up for them.
This was surely approaching what the home fans had been dreaming of, as Grilled made the league leaders look positively sluggish. Djan Bacelar
's unexpected decision to try Mohammad Ramli Saliman
out as a withdraw forward alongside Tian Yonghang
, with Dvorak at the point, looked like a stroke of genius at this moment - their technical ability made it difficult to strip Grilled's attack of the ball, and kept the visitors in full retreat.
Twenty minutes in, the points appeared to be firmly in the bag for Grilled, as Neeraj Muthyala
effortlessly tapped a second goal in, after a sharp passing combination through their Yves Boeger-marshalled defence. With even Velasco clearly downbeat, and The EV not yet having garnered as much as a throw-in in the Birds' half, their streak looked in grave danger of disappearing.
Their change in fortunes would come promptly, however, and had an extra dash of luck about it. Yuki Irie
got caught on his upper arm by a wild effort by Ho Jing Ah that was going nowhere, and referee Youp Sleutjes had no option but to award the penalty. Wong Tian Han
tried to wait Osman Abdul Majid Nazri out, but the eventual conversion was hit too hard and well to stop.
About this time, The EV began changing tack from trying to pass their way through Grilled's admirably-intransigent midfield, to scooping in crosses from deep; this was probably inspired by Vúlchanov and fellow striker Mateusz Dziewoński demonstrating themselves to have a definite advantage over Grilled's defenders in that department. This would soon yield an equaliser, as Dziewoński's powered header caught a slight but decisive bounce against Gene Filippone
This was understandably hard for Grilled to swallow, and there was no want of striving towards retaking their lead. Both of their best chances for the remainder of the half went astray by inches, unfortunately, as first Yuki Irie
, and then Yuta Nakakita
, saw their attempts elude Sean Huseklepp, but not his goalposts.
They might not have known it, but this would be as good as it would get for Grilled, given that The EV had figured them out. Mohd Ramli Saliman's limitations as an attacker were also being exposed in parallel, as the opposing defence correctly figured that he was not much for shooting. With Gencho Mintzev and Kevin Bomhöffer now bombing down the wings with abandon, the Birds' authority over the direction of the match was seeping away fast.
On the other hand, The EV's height advantage up front was giving Grilled more and more problems, with Dziewoński expanding his repertoire to chesting it down in the 53rd. Wong Tian Han
was unsighted as Vúlchanov knocked it to the outside to open up the angle, and despite Yuta Nakakita
's last-ditch challenger, The EV would take the lead with Vúlchanov's grounder creeping in at the far post.
It went from bad to worse as Osman's corner five minutes later was nodded in by Mintzev after his forwards drew all the attention, and what seemed like a locked-on victory had transformed into probable bitter defeat.
Bacelar was not prepared to throw in the towel just yet, though, and put Hoàng Trung Quá
on for Gene Fillipone in the 75th. While baffling on paper, his intentions were soon made clear, as Hoàng adopted a more or less free role in driving the team forward. Grilled reacted positively, and Yuta Nakakita
nearly drew them back, with a combative looping header that shaved the top of the bar.
This led into the change that the supporters had been calling for, with Rinor Isufi
eagerly replacing Mohammad Ramli Saliman
, but Sean Huseklepp would pick this time to showcase his talents. The Norwegian goalie would make a couple of excellent saves off the marauding Gennady Dvorak
, and in doing so extended their impressive winning run to eleven games.