Twinge Of Anxiety
It wasn't a bad showing against English Division Two club Phobia FC, but the pride of Hampshire coming back to snag a three-all draw did expose some not-unknown shortcomings in Grilled's setup. On the other hand, there were hardly enough superlatives to describe the exploits of acting captain Chan Ze Han
, who scored a brilliant hat-trick from midfield, and made it look simple.
Phobia FC had steadily worked their way through the English league system, and American head coach Paul Triplett has put his faith in wise old heads, in their push towards the English Premier. Angolan national icon Matias Mourato would arrive in the twilight of his career, along with English former international Stefan Wilce, who has however been relegated to bit-part roles. Their rise owed somewhat more to long-timers such as ex-Norwegian U-20 winger Magnus Solstrand, affectionally nicknamed the "Red Devil
" by supporters, for his auburn hair.
The rest of Phobia FC's squad was similarly solid, and of all the tactics this afforded them, Triplett would still choose to engage the Birds on the counter - not an unjustified decision by any means, mind, what more with top-class Czech keeper Viktor Kacerovský as their final man. Grilled remained without Neeraj Muthyala
and Gilbert Webb
through injury, but Kalki Parvathaneni
would start at right attack, with no further commitments to weigh him down.
With goals being the name of the game on Sunday, all eyes were on whether Grilled would perform in this respect, and on this they would not take long to reassure. Phobia FC appeared set to frustrate for a long time, but the tiniest of cracks would emerge in their defence, in the fourth minute. Sebastian Janiak allowed the ball to run just inches too far, and he certainly didn't count on Chan Ze Han
reading it in a flash, and rifling an unsaveable effort to the near top corner.
That was a ridiculous finish, but one that Phobia FC wouldn't be given too much time to dwell upon. Grilled kept the pressure on tap, and there would be another magnificent strike, this by Bernie Egan
in the 13th minute. That would soar slightly over, and the instant restart - with some help from an enthusiastic ball boy - would see Janiak rock the post at the other end. Chan Ze Han
then would demonstrate how it should be done, as he raked a second goal home, after a short burst of dribbling.
Phobia FC would grow into the game, and they had the best chances for what remained of the first half. With their defence having adapted, they could afford to manufacture opportunities patiently, as when Branko Ðurić settled for a corner on their response to Chan's second. The Serbian nearly converted it himself too, but not quite, and the woodwork would save Massoud Dob
a third time, on Radoine Delaine's attempt in the 31st.
Frankly, it would have been slightly unjust had Phobia FC not managed to score at least one, and this they did in the 57th minute, as Magnus Solstrand made an extended run down his flank, after shaking Salah Kamel
off. Bhavya Panigrahi
went by the book in forcing the winger wide, but the final drive was just too perfect. Chan Ze Han
was not intimidated in the least, however, and would complete his hat-trick on the hour with a classy chip.
Confronted with a two-goal deficit and twenty minutes remaining, Triplett would swap a busy but not especially effective Ðurić out for Jamaican Number Nine Antoine McCreery, which turned their fortunes around in a jiffy. Kalki Parvathaneni
would have cause to rue placing his shot too conservatively against Kacerovský in the 77th minute, as Janiak made up for his lapse leading to Grilled's opener, by scoring on the next overlap.
Grilled were fading somewhat now, and a second bid save by Kacerovský, this against Salah Kamel
, would lead to late McCreery's equalizer. Again, the Birds were exposed down the left, and Mateja Jeftić
couldn't position himself to cover both Byron Hosker and McCreery simultaneously. Phobia FC persisted with their push to win it, and it would wind up being Grilled who were probably the happier for time to run out.