Back In Command
So It Is
Controlar didn't make it easy at all, but the Birds would claim three very precious points from today's clash at The Cooking Pot. Interest among even the faithful had been waning, from the woefully low attendance of less than forty thousand, and the promise of better to come was greatly appreciated by those who were present.
With the participants having no loftier ambitions than avoiding relegation, there was unavoidably some air of dreariness hanging over the affair. Djan Bacelar
made to restore some positivity by returning Low Aik Jia
to the left, while moving Hoàng Trung Quá
back to defence. Notably, Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
turned up in the VIP box, as Clark Won
again filled in at forward.
The visitors were without a win in their last four league fixtures, but their Romanian head coach Mihai Oanea saw no reason to deviate from their practice of counterattacking in a 4-5-1 when away. Former U-20 international Caleb Tam returned for another bite, alongside longtime midfield partner - and now captain - Khalil Abdul Rauf.
Their intention to set up deep and strike on the break was only too obvious, and it suited Grilled fine actually; Won was active ferrying to to-and-fro between the supply and front lines, but it would be Low Aik Jia
who was by far the most trigger-happy, with one of his many efforts slamming into the crossbar in the tenth minute. That did lead directly to Controlar's first real counter, which ended in a free-kick that Cristian Manuel Irazazábal skewed narrowly wide.
This was the beginning of an excellent patch for the visitors, who had the Grilled defence hung out on quite a few occasions. A particularly surgical incursion down their right saw Neeraj Muthyala
fell Tadeusz Steinke with clumsy tackling, which will see the Grilled Number Four suspended for the next match. Steinke for his part would signal to leave shortly afterwards, and was replaced by Hungarian backup Zsolt Gácsér.
That did buy Grilled some time to regroup, however, and they would slowly pry control back over the next minutes. Cautious possession football saw them work their way safely inside Controlar's penalty area, and they would break the deadlock through a corner kick. Gennady Dvorak
swung it in with heavy spin, and Yuta Nakakita
Dvorak himself would turn Irazazábal just a couple of minutes later to make it 2-0, but Controlar immediately covered for that with a full-blooded rampage down the right. Low was nowhere to be found as Sébastien Guennec pulled away, and Gene Filippone
was caught in two minds when Guennec squared it for Gácsér, who lifted it smoothly over Wong Tian Han
This was it for a long time, as the visitors refocused their efforts on not going further behind. Grilled tried to force the issue, but Tian Yonghang
was not quite his former self, from his trying to attack a couple of Low crosses that he would surely have gotten to in his younger years; instead, he had to pull up short, frustrated.
It came to a head in the 57th minute, when after yet another foiled Grilled move, Controlar came back at pace with Derya Kozak carrying the ball. Filippone did the responsible thing by blocking him before he got too close, but the resulting indirect free-kick was worked brilliantly by the Controlar players. Several likely pre-planned passes opened it up for Khalil Abdul Rauf, who needed no second invitation to slot the equaliser in.
With Grilled's energy levels petering out, it came as little surprise that Djan Bacelar
used two of his substitutions to try and arrest the decline. Out went Tian Yonghang
and Gene Filippone
, with Rinor Isufi
and the mostly-recovered Yuki Irie
stepping in. Yuki conferred with Tian at length as the latter passed over the armband, but it was not immediately clear what advice was given.
Whatever it was, it certainly helped, as the Birds took the offensive solidly. Gennady Dvorak
seemed the most enlivened by having some bona-fide pace to play off, and the Argentine had an extremely good opportunity to put the Birds in front 79 minutes in, picking up the scraps after Rinor Isufi
had been dispossessed. Dvorak managed a very creative lob under the circumstances, and was unfortunate to watch it clatter off the bar a second time.
Controlar were fighting to keep their point by now, but they would finally be undone by Grilled's supersub. Isufi, who had completely changed the tenor of the game since he came on, simply refused to be contained by the opponents' area marking, and he found himself in a fine shooting position on the right side, 82 minutes in. A terrific rip right at the near top corner left Henri-Edouard Leplae totally stranded, and sent the fans into rapture.
They might yet have salvaged something had Yuki not intercepted Gunnec's marvelous pass with his face, with Kozak poised for the finishing header, but it would be Isufi who had the last word; eager for another as injury time beckoned, he sprinted right between the centrebacks, only for Lepale to throw himself at the ball... and take a full-powered swing to his ribs.
The brave goalkeeper crumpled like a sack of potatoes at that, and after a cursory inspection, both sets of players urged their medics on. The game ended on a heavy note as Lepale was stretched off motionless with an oxygen mask strapped to his face, and although Controlar gave it a good last go packing the Grilled box, Piotr Kolberg's long goal-kick drifted disappointly straight out of touch.