Nut In The Woods
Grilled Birds confirmed their place in the next stage of the Penalty-Killer Cup tourney with a second successive narrow win, with English third divisioners Nutwood County nudged 2-1. Nutwood had bounced between Divisions Three and Five for much of their history, with this being one of their more successful periods, under the canny leadership of hometown midfielder made good Nelson Rutherford. Still, his tight 3-5-2, while a clever answer to the Birds' aggressive stance, remained not quite enough to wiggle a draw today.
Number Nine Ryszard Mazela would return at right forward after getting the winner against Jasiu Hotspur in the previous round, and Seb Allen would marshal a very competent midfield also composed of German veteran Kay Söhngen, and Israeli Dov Kital. The Birds had Aw Keng Chuan
back in the middle in an otherwise heavily-offensive setup, that had Chia Kwang Tse
and Mohd Marzuki Khairul
essentially freely interchanging vertically with Lim An Keng
and Chad Thach
, to feed Chan Ze Han
Defence, then, would doubtless be Grilled's poorest department today, and although Hwang Teck Fu
did his best, he could not hide his unfamiliarity with the role. Nutwood turned the first half an hour into a fierce stand-off in midfield mostly, as they packed inwards while repelling any and all attempts by the Birds to go high, utilizing their height advantage. Eventually, they freed up Italian skipper Massimiliano Raffini on the left, and a single misread by Hwang was enough to allow Raffini past him irretrievably on the inside, upon which the winger put it between Dimitris Germanakos
That was an exquisite finish, and one that Thach tried to answer in kind with a couple of thundering right-footers of his own, having just returned from scoring against Hong Kong in a youth Nations Cup match - if in a 1-6 defeat. Nutwood goalie Kamchybek Barkan Uulu barely warded off the second of those with a stiff punch, but it wasn't as if Germanakos was not earning his keep either, as he predicted Ronald Haraldsson's penalty take exactly in between, to get some of his own back.
Nutwood appeared to have secured the upper hand as they awaited half-time, but one man had other ideas - and when that man's Chan Ze Han
, it tends to get very dicey for those opposing him. Chan had been effectively shadowed by Icelandic sweeper Oddgeir Áslaugsson before this, but he would happily remind that a striker needed just a few minutes to leave his mark; in the three from the 40th to 42nd, Chan got off three shots on target as the English side reeled from his onslaught, two of which found the net as he varied his technique and angles to great effect.
Some of the Nutwood players looked shell-shocked as the referee then blew for half-time, as they required prodding to depart the field. The mental scars hadn't healed when they got back, from how they yielded the direction to Grilled from then on, and they would have to endure a right battering in the first ten minutes of the next period. Egemen Dinçer Ferzan
drew another top-class save off Uulu as he zoomed in from the right in the 51st minute, while Aw Keng Chuan
tried his luck on Parada's stylish sideways layoff a couple of minutes on, and missed high by inches.
Grilled had perhaps not paced themselves optimally, however, and Nutwood would stabilize after not much longer. They would start picking the slightly-exhausted Birds midfielders off in possession, and while Tian Yonghang
was probably justified in subbing Chan off for Joe Reece
in the 80th minute, that did not do much to retake the momentum in the end. Federico Parada
was entrusted with the captain's armband by Chan, just in time to be cut down by Seb Allen on another explosive dribble along the left touchline, for which Allen had to be booked.
Nutwood had not given up, and were very close to punishing Grilled with a late but probably deserved equalizer. Aw tried to catch them napping from the free-kick then, but it was all too obvious to Markus Lampinen, and the reprisal would wind up with Dov Kital soaring unchallenged to meet a tasty cross meant just for him. Germanakos was in no position to stop the downwards header, had it been slightly more to the left, but it bounced marginally wide of the far upright, to the Birds' relief.
Tian saw the need for more experience as he got Gilbert Webb
on for Damian Hutter
at the back, and this proved enough as Grilled held through the five minutes remaining, and then the single minute of added time.