Battle Lost, War On
Nie Says No
The Birds might have fallen to -Blitz-, but they managed to take the III.15 title nonetheless at the fifth time of trying, for only the third Division Three gong in their long history. The visitors' national winger Nie Tze Chao was evidently unwilling to see Grilled go, from how he radiated influence from the right, but they didn't pack enough to prevent Grilled from having matters in their own hands.
The formula was simple - win and guarantee automatic promotion, draw and guarantee the championship - and only Chu Xin Lee
was arguably absent from what was probably the Birds' strongest starting XI. -Blitz- had been formidable save their loss to ~Pollen~ in the past two months, however, and their tying Ropelearner FC up last Sunday was only fair testament to their ability.
With the season opener having been a ten-goal rollercoaster, the home fans weren't overly put off when Nie jiggled his way through to score in the 16th minute, with Danil Labutin running interference. Indeed, Cyril Künzler
placed a slide-rule pass to Yuta Nakakita
from a free-kick just two minutes after that, though the Number Thirteen ended up slicing it badly wide.
If the chances were flowing thick and fast, they were also beginning to be monopolized by -Blitz-, which was the handiwork of Nie and Ricardo Rey; the 29 year-old Colombian international was untouchable at times, and he nipped not a few Grilled attacks in the bud, before they could develop into something bigger.
Nie took care of their offensive duties, and he made Florus Romijn
look extraneous, skipping by him oh-so-gracefully in the 33rd minute. Guido Frankenberger scrambled the low cross past Massoud Dob
, Gilbert Webb
was there with a stiff block on the goalline, but Giorgio Monari would finally put it to bed for -Blitz- with a second follow-up.
Grilled's earlier optimism was nowhere to be found after going two down, and the rest of the half was spent just scurrying about preventing it from getting worse. It could well have, from how Rey pulled the strings in the middle, but they just about held out to the break.
Ropelearner had meanwhile also gotten a 2-0 lead against newbies, giving them a very real chance of overhauling the Birds, but it was not like Grilled needed extra motivation. Expressing that was another matter altogether, as -Blitz- nearly went three up in the 52nd through Elias Yie's power-packed drive, that was only inches away.
Grilled's belief did grow with each survived scare, and Florus Romijn
would gradually emerge from under Nie's shadow, making several incursions deep into -Blitz- territory. This included a cute dink over Ho Chee Chu meant for Bilal Mohammad Harun
, but Monari ultimately threw Bilal off sufficiently to make it easy for his goalkeeper.
The Birds carried on with their attacking play, and Kalki Parvathaneni
seemed to have caught Antonio Hernalsteen out with his toepoke in mid-stride... only for Monari to again be -Blitz-'s hero. Even more painfully, Grilled had overextended themselves setting that shot up, and Rogger Oscate would make it 3-0 on the blazing-fast response, doubling up with Gagan Kamat on the left.
It was all hanging on tenterhooks now, with a large proportion of the home fans also nervously following the going-ons over at Impossibility Camp, where newbies were getting battered too. If both results stood, however, Grilled would still squeak through, which was probably all they could hope for at the moment. Hovaness Noubaryan
wasn't waiting any longer for one, and he came out with a pair of substitutions: Chan Ze Han
and Yuki Irie
on for Vikram Mudaliar
and Yuta Nakakita
As it happened, a fresh burst of energy was all that Grilled wanted for. Chan was expectedly full of running, and he would catch Rey in a moment of weakness, barely two minutes after coming on. It wasn't particularly clean, but Neeraj Muthyala
shoved his way into the -Blitz- box to ensure that the Birds wouldn't be shut out in the league this season.
Things were also looking up on the Ropelearner-newbies front, as it was newbies who were actually getting attempts on target. Brendan Pham had just notched a free-kick agonizingly over, and there were few signs that Ropelearner would be able to find two more - which they didn't.
From the hand signals communicated by Hovaness Noubaryan
, he was making sure that his men knew it too, and there was a concerted effort at slowing the game down. There was certainly no mistaking the big smile and thumbs-up that Noubaryan gave when it was all over, either. It hadn't been pretty, but it was enough.