Fringe Men Fire
Ambitious Italian seventh division challengers Lupi Grigi gave Grilled Birds' out-of-favour stars and second-stringers a run for their money today, and it would take Vikram Mudaliar
in extra time to find the decisive goal in favour of the Birds. Nonetheless, the red-clad Grigi had definitely given the Grilled players plenty to mull over, as they consider their value to the club for the forthcoming campaign.
Several names stood out from Grilled's teamsheet for the moderately well-attended exhibition game, with Kalle ter Berg
and Wu Jinglong
's highly-anticipated returns foremost amongst them. Many had wondered whether the Birds could have saved some vital points had the Dutchman stayed healthy towards the end of the just-concluded season, but this seems a mystery that will never be unraveled. Heng Dong Chu
would be watched closely on the left too, with the local winger never having quite lived up to his billing as the club's most expensive signing ever - but perhaps Salmiņš' arrival might take some pressure off.
Lupi Grigi weren't anywhere near fielding their best either, for all that, but they wouldn't skimp on the midfield core. Leo Fara, Antonio Malaguti and Marco Runfolo had all been working together since coming up through the youth ranks, and if they were individually perhaps not quite amongst the top rank of playmakers, their innate understanding meant they remained a force to contend with.
The friendly began to expectations as Grilled went on the offensive, and the freedom that came with nothing riding on the game arguably had some of the players performing better than they had in ages. Heng Dong Chu
for one had always seemed that much more unreadable when all bets were off, and neither Roberto Piacquadio nor veteran wingback Benoît Tricot had any hope of fending Heng off when he was in that mood. The gates opened in the ninth minute as Heng flaunted the preternatural close control at pace that had seen the club break the bank for him, which he leveraged into an opportunity against Roberto Tirone, which was successfully taken.
made it 2-0 in the 23rd minute with a very professional free-kick delivery, with the former Chinese international curling it to the far top corner by the book. 19 year-old Toma Tamiya
, eager to make an impression on his first-team debut, then worked hard to get the ball to Heng Dong Chu
31 minutes in. Very sadly, Heng misread his teammate's intentions, and Runfolo would carry the ball back downfield at a furious clip, leading to far better intuition from Roberto Piacquadio - 2-1.
The spectators couldn't grouse about the teams sitting back, at the least, as Grigi saw no need to be overly conservative in their approach, despite this giving Grilled's rather more chances than they were entitled to. Vikram Mudaliar
converted a messy corner and could have had one more, before the very active Runfolo again pegged another back, as the Italians packed Grilled's box in the 40th minute.
Despite appearances, it would be announced that the visitors had actually edged possession for the first half, which could be explained by relatively more of it being in less-urgent areas of the pitch. It was undeniably a great base ti work from, and Manuel Vadalà
would have to be alert when his defence let the ball through to Christophe Le Quellec in the 51st. Grilled's busiest fellow by this stage was probably Toma Tamiya
, but his many various attempted crosses were simply too obvious to do much damage.
It was instead Lupi Grigi who were getting their ducks in a row, as Heng perhaps tried too hard to make things happen on the left. Roberto Piacquadio would be left entirely unguarded in the 67th minute as the Italians boxed Heng in, and his early cross would fall beautifully to Le Quellec, some fifty-over yards out. It would have been impolite for the Frenchman to miss again, and he would slip it beneath Vadalà's dive this time.
This was enough to take the match into extra time, with Grigi seeming more than capable of pulling the upset. It would instead conclude to form, though, as Grilled's men revealed that they hadn't been going all out before; Vikram Mudaliar
romped in from the right to strike a fourth goal, which was sufficient for the Birds to coast to the end.