Ariton's Final Blow
Grilled conceded the end of the title race, after they lost 3-4 at home to -Blitz-, the first league defeat that The Cooking Pot had witnessed since their crash to newbies are newbies more than two seasons ago. George-Cosmin Tudorache was, as always, the main man to watch, but it would be the unsung Daniel Ariton who would plunge the dagger in at the death.
To be honest, despite the Birds' impressive home record, serious pundits were well aware that they had lost much of their earlier shine, which was reflected in the rapidly-narrowing odds once the betting market opened. Mohammad Ramli Saliman
once more failed to make the starting lineup, and the others were not exactly all that sprightly either.
It was some pretty pedestrian football from Grilled from the beginning, and it wasn't going to cut muster against a visiting -Blitz- side who were, if not at, then surely near their absolute best. Parading the same 5-4-1 that had put them in such good stead against Ropelearner FC last weekend, they further dominating the middle utterly, with Ricardo Rey and Gagan Kamat adapting brilliantly.
They wouldn't take long to reap the rewards, as Kamat's nipping between Florus Romijn
and Chu Xin Lee
left the two with a lot of ground to cover. The interlinkage with Rafał Komisarek was exquisite as the Pole flowed to the outside in response, and his inbound cross for Tudorache was in turn nigh-unmissable.
Grilled mounted some decent moves of their own after that, but -Blitz-'s defence was geared towards just that. On the other hand, the Birds never seemed particularly prepared when the visitors pushed forward, and it was only Valentin Batâr
's decisiveness that bailed them out, when Tudorache flung himself in for a header in the 25th. Two minutes after that, Batâr would be at Ant Kearney's mercy after a slip by Yuki Irie
, but the unsettled English defender thankfully fell over too.
Chan Ze Han
would grift a hard-earned first corner off -Blitz- in the 31st minute, and this was just what the doctor called for. Yuta Nakakita
would take it for once, as Cyril Künzler
was held back in case of a breakwaway, and he put in an uninspired effort straight to Antonio Hernalsteen... who uncharacteristically punched it weakly to Yuki Irie
, who does not often stare gift horses in the goalmouths.
The equaliser didn't last long, as Johannes Polley almost instantly put the visitors back ahead with a wonderstrike from the edge of the area. Of course, even if that had not happened, it was still painfully clear that Grilled were not up to -Blitz- in basic terms, something that Djan Bacelar
had to be sweating about from the dugout.
The Birds would come out for the second half, if not a changed team, then at least somewhat improved. Grilled were, if not exactly commanding, at least fighting for the ball now, and the half-chances naturally followed. Quick feet by Neeraj Muthyala
put Moey Xin Seng
through in the 57th, and the Grilled captain finished confidently after a cheeky little fake-out.
The scoring curse struck again like clockwork, sadly, and Grilled were behind once more, after barely two minutes. The action was all taking place in the inside now, with Grilled's own wingers having abandoned any pretense at stretching the game out, but operating in tight spaces was something that -Blitz- were excelling in. Tudorache was such a threat that he almost always had two men on him, which probably helped Ant Kearney find the space he needed to bend it in at the far post.
Bacelar sized up his options as -Blitz- began to reclaim the initiative, but despite Saliman, and the recently-overperforming Mottl and Eshrafi warming up in turn, the eventual change was Hoàng Trung Quá
in for Yuki Irie
. If it was not the most ambitious of changes, however, the reasoning was at least clear, and Tudorache may have found Hoàng the toughest customer he had yet to encounter.
The seconds were slipping by nevertheless, and with a loss, or even a draw, being largely useless to the Birds, the urgency radiating from the stands was palpable. And then a saviour of sorts arrived, as Florus Romijn
left Tsamin Abdul Rahim Sufyan standing with his pull inside in the 85th, followed by a successful strike when Islom Davlatov
was arguably better=placed.
By this time, Grilled should have known better about clamming up after a goal, but the bad joke continued with them promptly leaving their entire left flank often for Kamat, who scooted down the sidelines for once with the Birds intent upon a late winner. Daniel Ariton saw that his moment had come, and made it 4-3 with a big header.
Then again, it was not as if the Birds could have settled for a point, but -Blitz- were certainly rather more mature about their leads; Rey ate away the seconds professionally from a free-kick, and they were definitely good value for the three points overall.