Tampines Phoenix F.C. would give Grilled Birds far more trouble than they had in cup competition the previous season, but to no avail. Additionally, this match might well have been the last for former national U-20 fullback Wong Hock Kuan, after the 37 year-old found himself badly mangling his right foot, after an ill-advised tackle in the second half.
Phoenixes head coach Khairul Azhar Khairil Anwar Abdul Malik had claimed to have been thinking about a counter to the Birds ever since their fourth-round defeat then, and it would turn out to be a full press in a 5-5-0 formation. Abandoning any pretense at taking the game to the Birds, the Phoenixes would pin their plan on national wing star Israel Brown somehow conjuring a goal from nothing - or more realistically, to settle for penalties.
Grilled reshuffled their lineup again with Egan and Kalki returning to the attack, but Heng Dong Chu
remained out of favour, with Kalle ter Berg
chosen ahead of him on the left this time. The Birds were not the only ones tinkering here, however, as the Phoenixes took it further with a first-minute sub. Apparently, Chew Chang Ah's name had been submitted wrongly, and Kang Leng Huat was Khairul's intended left winger instead.
That little detail corrected, the Pasir Ris club would dedicate themselves towards shutting the Birds down in earnest, but this one-dimensional objective was always going to be slightly daunting to hold against a free-flowing Grilled side. They got eighteen good minutes in, before failing to watch a simple one-two between Chu Xin Lee
and Chan Ze Han
, on the right side. The latter would duck inside current national defender Imaduddin Ahmad as part of the move, and slid the ball past Koh Kiong Yeng with an unshakable confidence.
The Phoenixes fans were under no illusions that their situation had become problematic now, as they turned, against hope, to Israel Brown for salvation. Astoundingly, the 25 year-old would deliver against all odds, as he made Ter Berg and Panigrahi look positively clumsy with his incursion in the 34th minute. Gilbert Webb
was left with two men to check all of a sudden, and Brown expertly sought out Wong Hock Kuan for the tap-in.
This equalizer wouldn't last long, though, as the Birds recovered their lead upon the restart. Brown's brilliancy had Tampines perhaps a bit over themselves, and they would commit themselves to attack rather too eagerly, after Moey Xin Seng
seemed to have lost it in midfield. Moey would seize it back from Heng Shi Yeng in moments, though, and it turned out that the Phoenixes were less than invincible when hit on the break. Bernie Egan
would steer the remaining defenders one way, before playing Gilbert Webb
in for 2-1.
That had Tampines slide right back into a more cynical mood, and the end of the half was characterized by several hard and seemingly not entirely above-board tackles from both sides. Ironically, Ghani Mohd Amin would finally be carded by Mongolian referee Hulagu Damdinsuryn for the relatively tame act of holding up a free-kick.
Damdinsuryn would be chatted up by both captains as play stopped for half-time, and when it resumed, it was Grilled who had clearly taken the measure of their opponents. Soon all but camped in the Phoenixes' territory, the Birds would emphasize possession given their lead, which did not take away from their capability to stick the boot in when needed. Moey Xin Seng
's 49th dribble was perhaps the best of the match yet, and it took some exceptional goaltending by Koh Kiong Yeng to keep him out.
The match took a dark turn for Tampines next, as they were forced towards yet more dangerous tackling thanks to Grilled's onslaught, and Ng Leong Yau would be lucky to escape with a yellow for his behind-the-back number on Chan Ze Han
in the 54th minute. The pain on this occasion was but temporary, though, in contrast to Wong Hock Kuan catching his standing foot in the turf, when throwing the other leg at Egan.
That appeared very clearly broken, to the extent that the Irish forward disposed of the ball despite a scoring opportunity after catching a glimpse, and the Tampines captain would be immediately replaced by Wan Lukman Hafiuddin Azib, with the tackle having conveniently taken him out of bounds. Fellow veteran Zakariyya Kamarul inherited the armband, as the match entered a long stoppage that neither team minded.
It did nothing to alter Grilled's dominance, and when play resumed, it would be the same story of the Birds asking all of the questions. Chan Ze Han
was at the forefront of those efforts, but an inspired showing by Koh would deny the Grilled star at least twice. Nie Tze Chao replaced Kang Leng Huat sometime in the midst of all this, but he was unable to make any more of an impact down the left.
Teo Chuan Yong
's glaring miss with five minutes remaining left the Phoenixes with the faint possibility of turning it around, but they were just not getting the ball into the Birds' final third enough. Israel Brown would do all he could, but all that brought him was a late yellow card, as Grilled rode the match out without too much ado.