To The Summit
Parving The Way
Grilled Birds overtook Ropelearner FC to go top of III.15 with two rounds remaining, as Kalki Parvathaneni
continued his relentless drive for the Golden Boot with a laudable brace. This win was all the more exceptional given that Grilled were without regulars Moey Xin Seng
and Chu Xin Lee
through suspension and injury respectively, leaving Yuta Nakakita
to captain what remained to the all-important three points.
Ropelearner were without Ye Junzheng themselves, but they were hardly out of options, with Dániel Bejczi moving wide and Marijan Grgeč entering midfield. Having tasted defeat just the once against ~Pollen~ in the league, a win here at The Cooking Pot would have opened up a nigh-unassailable five point lead, and there was no doubt that they were playing for the victory here.
The slow pitch made the early going choppy, with the Birds unable to get into their rhythm. Much of that was down to Chan Ze Han
, who tried valiantly to serve as the bridge to attack, but who was a step slow most of the time. Grgeč for one took particular pleasure in closing him down, or so it seemed.
The game only truly sparked to life sixteen minutes in, when Vikram Mudaliar
's trying his luck down the left resulting in a fancy cross that Islom Davlatov
didn't quite get his head to. Koray Güner played the ball out with admirable composure, and Massoud Dob
would have to be at his best to save Gábor Gém's quality daisycutter to his far post, on the counter.
Ropelearner's grinding approach suddenly gave way to a race by Fabian Marburg down the left in the 23rd, on which targetman Salomon Breuker ghosted in behind Yuta to nip the opener. The Birds barely had time to feel despair before they were again level, though, as Neeraj Muthyala
impatiently asked for a run right after the restart... and found a great one from Kalki Parvathaneni
, who held Jean-Félix D'hoedt for just long enough to put his shot in.
The visitors weren't about to let up, and Grilled's defence would leave something to be desired in the 29th minute, with nobody picking Gábor Gém up in the box. While Massoud Dob
would once more deny the Hungarian with sheer athleticism, the Grilled Number One would be helpless against Piotr Widzyk's world-class strike from well outside, a couple of minutes later.
As before, the Birds would defy Ropelearner with a reflexive equaliser. The home fans were fully behind Cyril Künzler
as he carried the ball up the right side, skipping past Marburg more with determination than anything, and Islom Davlatov
made a hole in Ropelearner's defence with his direct run. Künzler timed the release perfectly, and although Baldomero Huamancayo got his fingertips to the ball, that wasn't nearly enough to stop it.
That was a pretty balanced first half by all indications, and Ropelearner would be more cautious as the match went on, probably since a draw would do them more good. They displayed rather less of an urge to enter Grilled's final third, and were content to snipe from distance, when closed down. Massoud Dob
was on his toes, and saw most of those coming all the way.
On Grilled's part, they turned to width to create their chances, and Künzler would trap a wayward pass beautifully in the 66th minute, before scampering straight down the right touchline. The cross itself seemed to be drifting outside the danger zone, but it would be solidly met by the outside of Florus Romijn
's left foot on the volley. So clean was the hit, that Huamancayo barely had time to twitch before the ball was beyond him.
That was a spectacular goal worthy of winning any game, and Romijn knew it as he wheeled away in joy. Ropelearner FC maintained the shape, now mixing in lobs to Breuker with their long shots, but their composure finally cracked as the minutes drifted by. Gém would go in studs-up on Romijn in the 78th minute, and it was largely through sheer luck that the Belgian pulled his ankle clear. Referee Gerardo Pérez had no doubt that it was a card-worthy offence.
The foul would further lead to a fourth and final goal for Grilled, as Romijn knocked it on for Vikram Mudaliar
, almost before the referee had put his cards back into his pocket. Gianluca Dioguardi blocked Mudaliar's effort, but it spun almost the breadth of the penalty area for Kalki Parvathaneni
, who passed it first-time into the net as Huamancayo struggled to change directions.
The Ropelearner players and coach were aghast at the match officials allowing that quick free-kick, but they made no headway with their arguments. Grilled would slow the pace down quite purposefully from then on, despite the visitors' active hassling, and Hovaness Noubaryan
helped the clock on with two drawn-out substitutions right after extra time began.