By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Reporting from the Clementi Stadium
The Tigers had taken the lead at the Clementi Stadium after just 11 minutes when Kim Min-ho tapped home from close range, before goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam produced an inspiring display to keep the Stags at bay.
However, Tampines finally found the equaliser right on the hour mark when Seiji Kaneko headed home a Shaiful Esah corner, before Shahdan Sulaiman netted the winner two minutes from time when he lashed home an effort from just inside the area.
The result ensured the hosts made it three wins from their opening three games of the new league campaign, and also came as a much-needed boost after they started their AFC Cup campaign with a 3-2 loss and 3-3 draw with Sai Gon Xuan Thanh and Selangor respectively.
And they almost got off to a dream start in the 9th minute when Shahdan swung in a good freekick straight onto the head of Kunihiro Yamashita, whose bullet header was kept out by a stunning save from Zaiful.
Two minutes later, the save proved crucial for Balestier when Patrick Paran robbed Shaiful Esah down the right and raced into the box, before squaring a neat ball for Kim to tuck home from eight yards.
Right on the half-hour mark, Yamashita, who scored his side's equaliser in Wednesday's draw with Selangor, threatened once more when he rose highest inside the area to meet a corner but could only divert the ball wide.
In what was turning out to be an entertaining, end-to-end encounter, the visitors were next to come close five minutes later when Kim played a neat pass into the path of Park Kang-jin, who raced through but was forced wide by Sasa Dreven. Nonetheless, the South Korean had the awareness to lay the ball back to Ruhaizad Ismail, only for him to blaze an effort just wide.
Four minutes before the break, Tengku Mushadad was next to send an effort narrowly off target when his ferocious effort had Dreven beaten all ends up, after the Balestier midfielder had latched onto a clearance and created space for himself by cleverly turning Mustafic Fahrudin.
Then, in a blistering end to the first half, Tampines had a trio of chances to pull level just before the break but were just unable to do so. First, Zaiful reacted well to push wide a 35-yard drive from Shaiful, before Sead Hadzibulic was guilty of wasting a gilt-edged chance when he blazed over from eight yards after a long-throw had fallen at his feet.
Shahdan then broke free down the left on the stroke of halftime after Khairul Amri held off a challenge and released his team-mate with a visionary pass, but, from a tight angle, the Singapore international was caught in two minds and could only send a cross-cum-shot wide of the far post.
Nine minutes into the second half, it was Amri's turn to squander a clear-cut opportunity when he brought down a right-wing cross from Ismadi Mukhtar brilliantly on his chest, only to blast wide from six yards.
Although the Stags were now firmly in the ascendancy, Balestier still looked capable of threatening and two minutes later they hit their opponents on the counter; Park latching onto a through-ball by Jung Hee-bong before going down inside the area. Thankfully, referee Abdul Malik was unmoved by the visitors' appeals and issued a yellow to him for diving.
But in the 60th minute, Tampines' pressure finally paid off as Shaiful swung a pinpoint corner to the back post straight onto the head of Kaneko, who made no mistake in planting the ball into the back of the net from close range.
Having finally found the equaliser, the hosts then needed a timely intervention from Yamashita to stay on level terms nine minutes later; the ex-Albirex Niigata (S) man weighing in with a brave block to deny Kim, who had broken free after flicking the ball over an opponent and let fly from just inside the box.
A minute later, the Tampines centre-back nearly made an equally important contribution at the other end of the ground when he met another tantalising set-piece delivery from Shaiful with a free header but, again, he just couldn't keep it on target
With the game now into its final quarter, the Stags began to show more urgency in their bid to find a winner and the chances began to fall their way; Amri sending a ferocious effort just wide in the 73rd minute after dispossessing Tengku by the touchline and racing down the right, before Yamashita had another go seven minutes later with a left-footed strike from the edge of the area that narrowly missed the bottom corner.
By now, 42-year-old veteran Aleksandar Duric had been thrown on for Hadzibulic and he nearly made an immediate impact in the 83rd minute, twice calling Zaiful into action with a firm low shot and a glancing header within a matter of seconds.
But two minutes from time, the ex-Singapore international delivered the goods, breaking free on the left and floating a clever ball to Shahdan, who took the ball past his man with his first touch, before smashing an effort home despite Zaiful getting a hand on it.
Straight from the kick-off, Balestier then nearly mustered an instant reply to make it 2-2 when a long ball was flicked on by Jung into the path of Qiu, but he just couldn't get a shot away in time as Dreven gathered to help Tampines hold on to all three points.
Tampines Rovers: Sasa Dreven, Jufri Taha, Kunihiro Yamashita, Seiji Kaneko, Shaiful Esah, Imran Sahib, Mustafic Fahrudin, Shahdan Sulaiman, Khairul Amri, Jamil Ali (Ismadi Mukhtar 23'), Sead Hadzibulic (Aleksandar Duric 79').
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam, Poh Yi Feng (Yusiskandar Yusop 86'), Obadin Aikhena, Jaslee Hatta, Syed Thaha, Patrick Paran (Qiu Li 68'), Park Kang-jin, Tengku Mushadad, Ruhaizad Ismail (Hamqaamal Shah 58'), Kim Min-ho, Jung Hee-bong.