Sigi Took On Ride
Grilled returned to Wales for the first time in forty-four seasons, and were taken apart 2-5 by St Elmo's Fire of West Glamorgan. The Birds started out strong but waned precipitously as the match went on, and it was all they could do in the finale to keep their heads above water.
Coming off the back of a moderately-successful season in which they finished third in III.14, the Saints were eager to keep on rolling in the post-season - but it was the Birds who drew faster. A lightning-quick move through the middle caught their entire backline flatfooted, and although Ángel Rico Garrido saved brilliantly from Iman Eshrafi
, there was nothing for it when Moey Xin Seng
breezed in on the follow-up.
The Saints found themselves operating best out wide, and they levelled in the eighth minute, with South Korean right winger Eun-Kyoo Chae polishing off a move that he had started. Iman Eshrafi
would angle one in off the post 28 minutes in, however, and with the hosts flagging, Mihailo Jovičić took the mostly-ineffective Sean Hemsley off, to give 19 year-old Andy Blakemore his debut at fullback.
Blakemore's sheer vitality was enough to keep Prokop Mottl
at bay after that, and encouraged by this improvement, Saints would make another change at half-time, with Ieuan Webb coming in on the other side of defence.
Somehow, this seemed to be exactly the tonic that they needed, and it was a much more jazzed Saints team that emerged in the second half. Despite a strange insistence on trying to play on the counter with a high line, they were indeed very effective when counterpunching opportunities presented themselves, such as in the 51st minute when Swiss playmaker Sigi Rydiker stole in undetected to grab an easy equaliser.
The Birds were still holding possession, but were finding it increasingly tough to do anything with it, as their forwards appeared to have spent themselves rushing at shadows. This might have been acceptable had they gotten some goals as a cushion, but indifferent finishing meant that it was the Saints who were much better-equipped to drag this one out.
This became obvious from about the sixtieth minute, which was also when Saints took the lead for the first time. Blakemore went on the offensive in support of Ferdinando Andenna, and he was just the extra man that Saints required to put a fine ball back into the middle. Adrian Schaefer ran to meet it, and zig-zagged past a couple of Grilled players, before smashing it past the diving Krystian Rykowski
Grilled had to resort to tactical stoppages to try and not fall too far behind, and a tumble by Mohammad Ramli Saliman
in the 73rd minute was punished by Hugo Orlando Velasquez, who thought it so much playacting. The Birds got a rare breakout in the 76th minute, with Kalki Parvathaneni
leading the charge, but his legs went just as he entered shooting range.
Luis Alcántara attempted to arrest the slide with Chirag Thevar
on for Mottl with ten minutes left, and this sub did give Grilled a little kick in the pants. Thevar was a willing sprinter when the Birds repelled yet another Saints free-kick with good length, but Parvathaneni again flattered to deceive, shaving the bar on his one-on-one against Ángel Rico Garrido.
This was the Birds' last hurrah, and they would be absolutely destroyed on the comeback, as Sigi Rydiker swerved a fourth in for Saints with Rashid bin Ahmad
all but hanging onto his jersey. The referee decided to turn a blind eye to that, and Saints weren't complaining, as the versatile Ieuan Webb upped the score to 5-2 on their next advance.