Razman Yes Sir
Grilled's bid for a third Ruby Challenger Cup ended in the last sixteen against II.1 leaders CoCoTeaTree Islanders today, as the Islanders' graft paid off late on. The Birds could not have done much more, but there remained a handful of individual inadequacies to regret.
They were certainly under no illusions about the enormity of the task before them, seeing as the Islanders would deploy essentially two banks of five, with renowned Polish goalkeeper Roman Brodawka behind it all. Grilled could only hope that news of Brodawka's possible transfer out might have unsettled him, but there was scant evidence of that in the warm-up.
Brodawka would however be beaten on the first test, though, a happening that was met by general disbelief - not least by the scorer himself. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
had done well to peel off Mark Gahr before laying an off-balance strike at the bottom corner, which was however relatively weak and from an awkward angle. A random jiggle off the turf as Brodawka stooped to gather it would leave the keeper red-faced, however, with the ball rolling over the line before he managed to recover and claw it away.
This was a gift from the heavens for the Birds, who had explicitly raised fears of not being able to grab a first goal, in their pre-game interviews. Moey Xin Seng
wasn't taking any chances, with a cynical takedown of Sng Tse Teck to slow the proceedings, and allow the coaching team to intercede. A game of chicken was the result, with roles reversed as Grilled seemed happy to invite the Islanders on them, to which they demurred; Gahr would follow Moey into the referee's book after mowing Islom Davlatov
down, as the Uzbek forward attempted to get inside in the 28th minute.
It was hard watching for the spectators, although one might suspect that the Grilled crowd weren't complaining about how little Valentin Batâr
had to do. Sng Tse Teck's hash of a finish from a promising cross did stop some hearts, as did Cyril Künzler
's inspired response several minutes later, but all in all, nothing was landing on target.
Things began really moving in the final five minutes of the half, as Kalki Parvathaneni
found himself through, after a straightforward yet devastatingly effective kick-and-run. Yet again, sadly, he got everything right but the last bit, as he nearly tripped over the ball in his haste the get his shot off, before sending it clattering into the hoardings behind the goal.
CoCoTeaTree Islanders would respond with two efforts that were as brilliant as that one was miserable, but to no better impact; Franjo Kölln forced Batâr into a reaction save with his left hand, and Yuki Irie
only managed to half-clear upon being pressured by Sng. Gahr would bring it back up as players from both teams fought a running battle to gain advantageous positions, before eventually rifling a strike headlong into the goalpost.
The high drama was only just getting started, as Sng then appeared to have equalised, latching onto the rebound. The celebrations were kicking into gear when referee Christof Peltz blew to bring play back - he had been informed that Hoàng Trung Quá
was being forcibly held back by Khaw Sze during the chase. Expectedly, this didn't go down well with the Islanders, with Khaw's yellow card perceived as an additional insult.
For their part, Grilled would leave the Islanders to hammer it out with the match officials as they retreated to their hard-earned rest. Their hard pressing towards the end of the half had taken its toll, judging by the pained expressions on the faces of a number of their players, with Yuki Irie
in particular looking like he had seen better days.
As they had in the first half, the Birds would burst out of the gates the stronger, and could conceivably have put the match beyond their opponents in this brief period on top. A fine series of passes around the Islanders' box was punctuated by Yuta Nakakita
's beefy rammed finish, but Roman Brodawka fully lived up to his considerable reputation this time.
It was Moey Xin Seng
's turn to flatter to deceive a couple of minutes later, as he was again less eager to pull the trigger, than he should have been. With that miss passed Grilled's best chance of tying it up, and it was the Islanders' turn to impose themselves, as they gradually - but insistently - forced the Birds backwards.
One fact that might have escaped notice, given that Grilled had not yet conceded, was how well they had blunted the Islanders' main edge, shooting from range, up till now. This had involved aggressive shadowing even in midfield, though, and its effects were beginning to be felt. Even workhorses such as Neeraj Muthyala
were slowing from the exertion, which was exactly what the Islanders were waiting for.
With this came openings on the edge of the Birds' penalty area, and CoCoTeaTree Islanders were not about to wait any longer. It was as if a shoot-on-sight policy had come into effect, and although Valentin Batâr
dealt with a number of dangerous tries, one would ultimately get past him: Mohd Razman Yasir's grounder skipping in at the far post, his fiftieth for the club.
Grilled had barely been able to refocus themselves, not helped by Sng's own close-run strike the very next minute, when they were hit bit a bolt from the blue. Khaw Sze's attempt seemed destined to go nowhere, by the slightest of tips off a teammate saw it deflected... straight into a distracted Hoàng Trung Quá
There was no mistaking what had happened, and there was further a cruel symmetry to it, considering their earlier denied goal. Peltz pointed to the spot almost instantly, and from the penalty kick, Mohd Razman Yasir set Batâr crumpling the wrong way to give CoCoTeaTree Islanders the lead, with nine minutes remaining.
Truth be told, there was probably little that Batâr could have done even had he guessed right, and in any case there was no time for retrospection. Unfortunately, this situation was right where the Islanders wanted to be, and they were very well-equipped to close it out. Kölln would bravely put himself beneath Künzler's feet in a tussle down the right, and he would further milk it for as long as he could.