Major Miner Damage
Bulgarian Division Four visitors FC Trakia 16, nicknamed "The Miners
" from their working-class Plovdiv origins, pulled no punches at The Cooking Pot today. Although no real bad blood was involved, the fact remained that the Birds would be out two men at the end of it, one of them quite possibly permanently.
Few were expecting such an outcome as the teams were friendly enough as they formed up for the pre-game photograph, but Trakia would immediately transition into all-business mode once referee Najib Fattouch blew for kick-off, with Nikolay Kolev immediately launching himself into an uncompromising sliding tackle on the unprepared Prokop Mottl
. They would then go ahead through George Richter, well before the Birds could recalibrate.
Their lead secured, Trakia would sit pretty in their classic counterattacking 5-3-2, which made up in sheer grit what it might have lacked in creativity. Alberto Montero had clearly put a rigid system in place for his charges, and while the general gist was easy to grasp - try to lure enough of Grilled's players out to leave their strikers even odds, or pass it all the way back if required - it remained fiendishly tough to break down.
It had to be said that Grilled were hardly tame sitting ducks either, and Jérémy Tarin
in particular would be fortunate to stay on, after taking Kolev's knees in a botched 16th minute tackle. Then again, Tarin and Panigrahi would have their work cut out for them, with Yuki Irie
having been fielded as sweeper - while Yuki's mind was by all accounts sharp as ever, it was clear that the 42 year-old couldn't run much any longer, and it was only through a collective effort that Pál Koszecz was kept at bay.
Still, this was just a friendly, whatever Trakia's attitude would seem to indicate, and Hovaness Noubaryan
had no qualms about giving Krystian Rykowski
a half between the posts. That would coincide with an uptick in the Birds' fortunes, with Islom Davlatov
curling it brilliantly past Józef Kłębowski, after spotting the gap at the edge of the area. Rykowski, whose goal kick was only a couple of passes removed from the goal, was observed dancing in celebration at the other end.
Alas, neither was aware of the cruel fates that awaited them.
Davlatov would be hit first, as he careened forward in an attempt to reach Bilal Mohammad Harun
's beckoning cross to the back post. He hadn't counted on Evtim Penev's desperate shoulder charge from behind, but Penev himself had probably also not intended for Davlatov's face to slam hard into the post. The ball was forgotten as the forward lay motionless with a broken nose, and it took long minutes and the administration of oxygen before he managed a weak thumbs-up to the cameras.
There was no way that Davlatov could be allowed to continue after that, and Gilbert Webb
- who was clearly not expecting to be involved - would hastily kit up in preparation. Penev didn't let the accident get to him, and he would be sent off for a second yellow following more rough play ten minutes on, with most of the crowd making it very clear that he had long overstayed his welcome.
Being down to ten men wouldn't affect the visitors' tactics much, and they took the lead again after 73 minutes, to somewhat louder discontent than was usual at The Cooking Pot for an exhibition game. Nikolay Kolev's commitment to chasing even the most tenuous of causes couldn't be faulted, though, and he was rewarded as Tarin suddenly lost his footing. Kolev scooted onto the now-uncontested ball as the Swiss defender contemplated a probable foul and dismissal, and knocked it past Krystian Rykowski
before the goalie could set himself.
would be the next name in the referee's book, as he hacked Kolev down not too long later, and Hovaness Noubaryan
would try to cool heads a little by staging a drawn-out substitution, with Neeraj Muthyala
shuffling the long way across for Kohei Okuya
to come on. This left Yuki as team captain, a gesture that still meant a lot to the veteran warrior.
FC Trakia 16 was all poised to take this one home, with their defence barely troubled by Grilled's last, largely weak attacks, but the Birds would mount a surprise charge straight down the middle as the match entered injury time. Kalki Parvathaneni
wasn't about to stop for anyone, but teenaged centreback Boris Georgiev did it for him with a none-too-subtle block, and was called for it to his evident dismay. Jérémy Tarin
stepped up for the penalty, and slid it accurately into the right bottom corner for 2-2.
Grilled's injury nightmare was not yet done, unfortunately, and there would be one last regrettable twist in the tale. There looked like no danger at all, when Krystian Rykowski
went up for a high ball that he was always the favourite to. The goalkeeper would somehow have his fall affected by Pál Koszecz and Chu Xin Lee
, who were standing around just in case, and wound up landing heavily on his neck.
Several members of the Birds coaching staff could be seen throwing their hands up at this turn in events, and the oxygen tanks and stretcher would have to be rushed on a second time - good thing that they had been left on the sidelines, then. Unlike Davlatov, Rykowski would recover sufficiently to try and walk it off, but his secondary collapse put paid to hopes that it was just a minor issue.