Point Of Relief
Grilled Birds coming from 0-3 down to rescue a draw would have been celebrated on most days, but this occurrence against Welsh II.1 leaders Ellan Vannin could not but feel like a letdown, given how thoroughly the Birds controlled the pacing for much of the game. This tourney showing didn't lift the question marks hanging over goalkeeper Jānis Salmiņš
either, as he was again responsible in large part for the opposition's goals.
All considered, Ellan Vannin were always going to be challenging foes, with their near-perfect competitive record for the season blemished only by a loss on penalties to Castle Town, in the Wales Cup. Italian foward Amedeo Bertossio, very productive with nine official goals thus far, had carried on his fine form with two in last week's 4-1 mauling of Botswana Watcher in the first round of the World Battle tournament; together with strike partner Ádám Szánthó and Swedish midfielder Edgar Svensson, he had been identified as one to watch closely during the game.
The Birds changed little from their usual tournament lineup, though Heng Dong Chu
not even making the bench must have been concerning to the winger. Eren Serpin
had made concentrating his forces the objective of the day, though, and to be frank Kalki Parvathaneni
had simply been that much more dynamic on the left. This was again in evidence when he overran French fullback Thomas Pré in the 21st minute, but Vikram Mudaliar
probably unwisely elected not to shoot first time, and was eventually forced wide and had to settle for an ineffectual cross.
Salmiņš' troubles would then continue, as he failed to hold onto a well-struck if entirely saveable shot from Zacary Ward, after the Aussie midfielder had wriggled free of Bhavya Panigrahi
in the 25th. To rub it in, Chilean veteran Nemesio Llancamil looked half his 39 years of age, as he threw himself across goal to paw Mateja Jeftić
's fine free-kick around the post, just a couple of minutes later.
While there was probably no stopping Thomas Pré's worldie in the 34th minute, trust in Jānis Salmiņš
would not fall a couple more notches, as he rushed out despite watching Victor Tabac take on the defence to no avail for some seconds, on Vannin's next advance; that opening was all the winger needed, as he gleefully went for the near post for 3-0. Grilled would work hard to try and get a reducer before half-time, but Llancamil was only too wise to the ways of Bernie Egan
Serpin would put Kalle ter Berg
for Salah Kamel
, though Grilled's prospects appeared to remain dim, as they found themselves continually stymied by a Vannin team that were more than prepared to defend in depth. The Birds were nearly hit on the break too, and were fortunate that Svensson's couldn't quite reach Mota's excellent delivery in the 55th minute. A second sub was in order, and on came Gilbert Webb
for the not entirely impressive Panigrahi.
This appeared the change that Grilled had been waiting for, as Webb added an urgency in moving the ball upfield from the back, that they had previously lacked. This would come as Ter Berg established himself as the go-to in the middle too, and the Dutchman would get the foul he was hoping to catch, challenging Florian Wildfellner some 67 minutes in. The defensive wall wasn't expecting Jeftić to go for the low pass, and Chan Ze Han
had more than enough time and space, to finally plant it where Llancamil couldn't reach.
Still, Grilled remained two goals down, and Vannin were hardly sitting around waiting to be taken. Ter Berg's high-risk style would have him booked for mistiming a tackle in the 73rd, which was followed by a near-miss from Bertossio, in the ensuing play sequence. However, it was undeniable that the Birds were doing far better than they had in the first half, and an intricate short passing pattern would open the way for Moey Xin Seng
to reduce further, with eleven minutes to go.
Serpin would seek to pile on the pressure by throwing Wu Jinglong
on for Kalki, and it went about as best as he could have hoped for, as the Birds got really stuck into their opponents now. Vannin had established a cordon around their penalty area, which however made it all but open season for attempts from outside. Mateja Jeftić
was heavily encouraged to shoot by the crowd, and while he skied it in the 81st, his next attempt would find the back of the net, perhaps aided by a tiny deflection.
With the match now back in the air, Vannin made their own move, and Salmiņš would thankfully live up to his own reputation with a brilliant reaction stop against Wildfellner. Grilled Birds were probably more likely to take it, but time would run out before they found a fourth.