Grilled's cup run was halted in the fifth round by old league rivals Yew Tea, who eked out a narrow 3-2 win, on a miserably warm and wet day at Sentosa's Olympic Lyons Park. The muggy conditions were definitely not the recipe for a classic extravaganza of football, but the players did manage to provide some thrills in an ardent, if largely raw, contest of wills.
With their II.4 form arguably suffering due to their focus on the cup, with consecutive 0-4 losses inflicted by SingaStyle and Joker 9 in the previous rounds, it was a huge question as to which Yew Tea would turn up. German head coach Axel Vermeeren stuck with the 3-5-2 that had done so well in knockout competition, with unorthodox Greek false nine Agamemnonas Kaldelis hanging off the left of main striker Silvestro Paoni.
remained determined to swim or sink with the youngsters, and in addition continued experimenting with Mohammad Ramli Saliman
, this time sticking him at right wing; Low Aik Jia
pointedly didn't look like a happy camper on the bench, but the weather was at least a practical excuse as to why he wasn't fielded.
Veteran Dutch midfielder Remon Hodzelmans soon affirmed that decision, as his attempts to utilize his considerable pace left him on the ground, more than once. It didn't take long for the game to be reduced to a slog through the mud, but Clark Won
nevertheless managed an impressive jab at the top corner in the 17th. Yew Tea goalie Antonio Sansone was watching out for that, though, and just about tipped it over.
Grilled were the more resourceful at this stage, and they took the lead in slightly contentious manner. After a bad tackle by Kalki Parvathaneni
on Jari Talamonti, Oscar Toniollo tried a quick free-kick, but was penalised for taking it too far forward; the quick-thinking Moey Xin Seng
had no such trouble, and Tian Yonghang
bagged it after smartly swerving around Jacob Lüdersdorf.
Lüdersdorf would reply in kind five minutes later, as Yew Tea pushed back through the middle. Grilled's defence held, but they didn't count on a centreback owning such a cultured right foot. Wong Tian Han
barely moved as the shot skipped across the grass, and bounced in via the foot of the far post.
Tian continued striving to be the difference, but found opportunities limited under the conditions. He did however dig out a half-chance in the 40th minute that unfortunately was sent straight at Sansone, before copping a booking for hauling Lüdersdorf down. Before that, Jari Talamonti came within inches of putting Yew Tea ahead, with a release on the turn that banged into the crossbar.
Yew Tea began to make the most of their possession advantage in the second half, as Grilled's young midfield again began committing their sins of overexuberance. Had it not been for Wong's excellent reading of the game, they could well have been several down ten minutes in, as Yew Tea's strikers strutted their stuff inside the Grilled penalty area.
Agamemnonas Kaldelis' unstoppable dipping stunner from the edge of the area was the pick of the lot, but very fortunately for Grilled, it dropped inches wide, to Wong Tian Han
's evident relief. Grilled's best hope up till then was Rinor Isufi
's advance up the left after Umberto Baronio's mistake, but the Albanian's lack of assurance told as he held on for too long.
And then, almost out of nowhere, the Birds regained the lead. While Chu Xin Lee
had been frustratingly inconsistent throughout, often losing the ball with unrealistically-ambitious passes, this tendency towards the spectacular was exactly what allowed him to break through in the 73rd - nobody quite understood what he was up to when he twisted himself into a pretzel, but whatever it was, it confused the defenders for long enough for Chu to notch his third cup goal.
With barely twenty minutes remaining, there appeared to be every chance that Grilled could last it through, but Yew Tea found a second wind about then. Going down resparked their flagging attacking drive, and Kaldelis found himself pulling the strings as Yew Tea overran the Birds' backline. Anbarasan Abhyankar had time and space to place his cross, and it went to the completely free Eu Liang Shi, who had no reason to miss from that range.
To be frank, neither side were looking particularly dignified by now, and if Grilled were wilting, Yew Tea were hardly sure of how to close this out either. An unwise square pass nearly gave Parvathaneni a road inside, but in the end it would be Hodzelmans' precise finish ranging down the left, that concluded the match.