Going One Better
The Chan Factor
The Birds went five out of six against Ropelearner FC at their Impossibility Camp, but they first had to survive a torrid first half-hour, in which the hosts seemed bent on blowing Grilled away. Milan Bakić made some changes to the side that had lost 1-4 to newbies last week, most notably perhaps the inclusion of Belgian Jean-Félix D'hoedt in central defence. Former Hungarian youth international Dániel Bejczi would drop back to midfield, as Ropelearner made to shore up the ball-holding ability that had been their downfall then.
These fixes certainly had an instant payoff, as Ropelearner began with a bang. A hyper-aggresive sequence from kick-off saw Grilled pressed back deep in their own territory, and D'hoedt would wow with his seemingly-effortless shuffle past Mohammad Ramli Saliman
, before laying it off to the now-free Bejczi. The strike was a thing of beauty, rattling in off the underside of the bar as Valentin Batâr
could only watch, rooted to the spot.
would take full advantage of the general Ropelearner giddiness to clip an equaliser in response the very next minute, but it was no exaggeration to state that the hosts had Grilled's number. They were winning just about all the midfield contests, and it was all a shaken Grilled team could do, to buy time with frequent put-outs.
This delayed Ropelearner somewhat, but Miklós Eszik would get a free-kick out of Florus Romijn
in the tenth minute, after he drifted over to the right. The free-kick was then swung across the breadth of the pitch and back, leaving Gianluca Dioguardi to swoop in to score against a severely-depleted central defence.
Their lead fittingly restored, the home team took care not to let up, and continued threatening with Marijan Grgeč pulling strings from his midfield post. There was, of course, another side to his game, which the Birds were bluntly reminded of in the 23rd minute. Eszik set Grgeč up after Ropelearner had worked to push the Grilled lines back, and faced with yards of clear air, Grgeč sent a subtly-dipping shot whistling past Batâr's grasp.
The bad news would pile up for Grilled, as Koray Güner barrelled hard into Kalki Parvathaneni
, as the latter tried to spark a response on the restart. The yellow card shown to the Turkish defender was scant consolation as Parvathaneni couldn't lift himself back up, and a grim-looking Hovaness Noubaryan
motioned for Prokop Mottl
to prepare himself.
The match was stopped for some minutes as the medics looked Parvathaneni over, which at least turned out to be what Grilled needed to reset themselves. Moey Xin Seng
's dissemination of his instructions did calm his teammates down, and this improved mentality saw Romijn speed clear on the left in the 29th minute. His intended target Islom Davlatov
was shoved aside as the ball came in, but Davlatov did manage to nick it to Neeraj Muthyala
, who banged it in from his follow-up run.
Despite all this, it was evident that the hosts retained the upper hand, and Noubaryan would identify Yuki Irie
as the weak link. The 35 year-old vice-captain had been consistent with his conservative role anchoring a midfield three, but this was not quite what a Grilled team chasing the game needed. The obvious substitution was for Chan Ze Han
to come in, and from what happened next, the travelling support could only muse at why the change had not been made earlier.
The difference in approach between Chan and Yuki was only too recognizable, as he sought to bring others in - and push them upfield - with his positive pass selection. Thus was it that barely three minutes after his introduction, Yuta Nakakita
found himself sprinting into Ropelearner's penalty area, where he had remained mostly stationed at the edge of Grilled's own previously. Weighing his options, Yuta decided to go it himself, and was rewarded as he sliced it in at the near post.
Ropelearner were not expecting this turnaround, and they tried to advance their own agenda with long balls out to Eszik, but to little avail. One of those was sent right back down the line and then played out by Mottl off a defender for a corner, which Florus Romijn
would likely have scored from, were it not for Michele Milelli's last-second challenge. The ball would be claimed by Hoàng Trung Quá
, unfortunately for the hosts, and he would put it in the now-unguarded net to give the Birds their first lead of the day.
The visiting Grilled fans would heartily remind the hosts of the 5-3 scoreline of their two most recent meetings at this, and a repeat was hardly out of the question, with Ropelearner's earlier assurance now nowhere to be found. Openings were certainly harder to come about, but Chan changing the typical range of engagement, but Koray Güner did give the Birds a good score, when he unleashed a thirty-yarder in the 59th minute. Batâr was out of position after taking a free-kick on the edge of the box, and he had Yuta Nakakita
to thank for blocking this effort.
Two minutes after that, the scoreline that the Green and Yellow Army had been singing about arrived. Now chasing the game, Ropelearner's defensive frailties would be exposed, as Ye Jinzheng was hurried into an ill-advised return ball, after being trapped at his own corner flag, and would give it away to Künzler. Moey would call for it with the Ropelearner players slow to return, and he duly thumped the desired fifth goal past Milelli.
The match had come full circle as Grilled mobbed the Ropelearner box, and it was only Piotr Widzyk's footballing intelligence that saved them when Prokop Mottl
rounded Milelli on the next move forward. The Pole placed himself on the line as Mottl finished as soon as he was able, and it was just enough to keep Ropelearner in it.
Buoyed by their close escape, Ropelearner pulled themselves together as Gábor Gém reorganized the team, and they began trading interceptions with Grilled in midfield. This was rather more to their favour than the alternative, and D'hoedt had the crowd on their feet in the 70th. Bejczj faked a cross convincingly before squaring it to the defender, who made no mistake with a cracker to the top corner.
Alas, Ropelearner's renewed belief was not enough to get them over the line as Grilled tightened up for the remainder of the game, and they managed but a couple more off-target tries before time ran out.