If ever the Birds needed a triumph, this was it, and they snagged one with the cooperation of fifth division German side Smurfbart Krautrock. While achieved in the unsanctioned Ravens Trophy tournament, it remained celebrated with huge relief by the Grilled representatives, who probably took it way more seriously than they had been expected to.
They had even thrown training concerns aside in fielding their strongest available lineup, with Hariharan Prabhu
stepping in as acting captain in the absence of Tian Yonghang
, who was left out after barely scraping through a late fitness test. Ang Leong Kum
and Clark Won
made a welcome return to central midfield, as Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
stood in for Tian up top.
Their opponents were a real danger to inflict yet more misery on the Birds, however, going by recent evidence - owners of a steely backline and a more than adequate attack, they were set up perfectly to counter Grilled as their recent conquerors had. Moreover, the club possess a long and rich history, having once reached the dizzying heights of Division Two, and four rebrandings. Starting off as the Smurfcity Soccer Stars, they then became the Psychedelic Smurfs, then PsychProg Krautrock, and most recently BartVgg Krautbembel, before returning to their Smurfy roots.
Indeed, the Smurfs sat deep as expected, which soon showed the distinction between youth and experience in the Grilled team; where their newer guys had been lured into traps all too freely, this Birds midfield was far more wary, and reconfigured themselves to provide much-needed protection for the defence constantly. Although Krautrock broke multiple times, they never got a clean look at Wong Tian Han
's goal, and their closest peek came with fullback Massimiliano Vitale's direct free-kick, which drifted over the crossbar.
With their initial probing not having the intended effect, Krautrock were unable to repress the Birds for much longer, and Mexican forward Xenobio Esperón's rather forced tumble running into the penalty area could have been interpreted as a sign of impatience. They in fact would not have to wait much longer for a goal - but it would be for Grilled, with Yuki Irie
embarking on a rare rampage through the middle, with the path cleared by fluid team passing.
This was more like it, and Grilled's long-muted forwards began to regain their former selves. Krautrock had Polish custodian Kazimierz Prochownik to thank for keeping them in it as the Birds advanced in force, with his top-drawer saves against Gennady Dvorak
and Mohd Safri bin Mohd Kassim
, within the space of five minutes.
For all the deftness of Mohd Safri's flicked header, though, it was evident that his contribution was by some distance the weakest amongst Grilled's frontline, and Djan Bacelar
decided to pull him off for the second half. In came Gene Filippone
and a reshuffling of the formation, with the Swiss taking his place between Yuki and Yuta, to make a narrow three-man backline.
This didn't hurt the Birds much if at all, as they had enough initiative to drift into new roles when it made sense to, anyway. Krautrock's counterattacking plans were not bearing much fruit with the cautious high-percentage short-passing tack that Grilled stuck to, and they instead were taken themselves in the 62nd minute, when an attempted run from deep by Dursun Ali Olcay was stripped and scored on by Yuta Nakakita
Helmfried Pott-Körner succumbed to frustration at the Birds' vanilla but oh-so-reliable style soon after, kicking the ball into the stands after being called for an admittedly light tap on Ang Leong Kum
. His team did reduce the deficit a minute or so after that booking, with veteran skipper Claus Kiesenhofer leaving Neeraj Muthyala
behind on the left wing. The cross whirled over the masses gathered in the middle, leaving Alexandru Răileanu to close with a tremendous volley racing in from the other flank.
Grilled suddenly looked very vulnerable, as they returned to the bad habits that had led to their collapse in their previous league games. Sensing it, Krautrock upped the intensity, and Serbian livewire Jovan Jelkić came very close to tearing away in the 75th. Thinking quickly, Yuki Irie
committed to a measured foul instead of throwing Gene Filippone
under the bus as the last man, taking a yellow card that was entirely justified on hindsight.
Yuki's sacrifice would not be wasted, as the Birds sought a restoration of their two-goal cushion. They achieved it with nine minutes to go, as Rinor Isufi
doubled up on Low Aik Jia
's slow advance up the left, before beating the offside trap with a perfectly-timed sprint. He almost seemed surprise when his drive slipped through Prochownik's gloves, but astonishment quickly turned to elation, as he wheeled away in unmitigated jubilation.