By Gabriel Tan at the Jurong West Stadium
Things were looking good early on for the Bulls as they took a deserving lead in the 25th minute through Mustaqim Manzur, who slotted home from close range after exchanging a neat one-two with Hafiz Rahim.
However, their inability to find a second before the break came back to haunt them as Home equalised in the 40th minute through Frederic Mendy, before substitute Indra Sahdan Daud glanced home a Qiu Li corner two minutes before the hour mark to grab all three points for the visitors.
The fact that Gombak ended the game empty-handed when they should have put the result beyond doubt long before the Protectors had a chance to equalise further highlighted Bulls coach K. Balagumaran's mid-season claims that his side lacked a genuine finisher, as Hafiz, Mustaqim and Jung Hee-bong all missed glaring opportunities to find the back of the net.
Already missing centre-back duo Franklin Anzite and Kenji Arai through international duty and suspension respectively, Home received another blow just before kickoff as first-choice goalkeeper Lionel Lewis pulled up with an ankle injury and had to be replaced by Nazri Sabri in coach Lee Lim-saeng's starting XI.
And aware that the visitors' backline was missing plenty of height, Balagumaran opted to start the towering Jung alongside Hafiz, at the expense of Julien Durand; a move which almost reaped dividends 11 minutes in when only a vital intervention from Mendy denied the South Korean a free header at the far post from a good cross by Mustaqim.
Buoyed by that early opening, Gombak started to gain control of proceedings and again came close to scoring in the 22nd minute when rampaging defender Ismail Yunos, who had a standout game, charged down the right and unleashed a terrific 25-yard strike that sailed just wide of the top corner.
A minute later, a visionary pass from Hafiz sent Mustaqim free down the wing where he proceeded to whip a low cross into the box, only to see Jung fire over with only Nazri to beat.
Nonetheless, the hosts' pressure eventually paid off in the 25th minute when the lively Mustaqim leapt well to win a header on the edge of the area and nodded it to Hafiz, who in turn immediately tapped the ball back to his team-mate. From 12 yards out, the 30-year-old did what none of his team-mates managed throughout the 90 minutes, and calmly slid his shot past the onrushing keeper.
Three minutes after the half-hour mark, the former Singapore international missed a glorious opportunity to double his tally when teenage winger Samuel Benjamin went on a jinking run down the right and swung in a cross that Jung met and flicked towards the far post. However, from eight yards out with only Nazri to beat, Mustaqim somehow contrived to miss a much easier chance than the one he had scored just moments before.
By now, both coaches were starting to cut worried figures by the touchlines: Lee, because of the way his team were being torn apart by a team seven places below them on the table, and Balagumaran, because of the number of times his side's profligate ways had cost them already this season.
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Seven minutes before halftime, Jung had another glorious chance to score when Hafiz drifted out left to pick up the ball and floated a pinpoint cross onto his strike partner's head, but having done well to find space between Sofiyan Abdul Hamid and Rosman Sulaiman, the Bulls target man could only power his effort way over the bar.
Two minutes later, Home made them pay for their missed chances when Mendy, a striker similar in physique to Jung but much more clinical with his finishing, was presented with his first chance of the game and made no mistake by outjumping Zaiful Nizam to power a Masrezwan Masturi cross into the back of the net.
And while they would have undoubtedly been disappointed at losing their lead so close to the break, the Gombak players didn't let it show as they started the second half looking as dangerous as they did in the first, but again they were let down by their finishing. First, Mustaqim could only curl an effort wide after the ball fell to him inside the area, before Hafiz stole in behind the Home backline with a late run into the box, only to head a fantastic cross by K. Vikraman over.
Two minutes before the hour mark, another Home striker who has no problems hitting the back of the net put the visitors ahead when Indra, on as a halftime substitute for the ineffective Shotaro Ihata, darted towards the near post and met a corner from Qiu Li with a firm header that was too hot for Zaiful to handle.
And having gone in front, the Protectors were then happy to sit back and defend their lead and the Bulls' frustration eventually boiled over in the 84th minute when centre-back Walid Lounis was handed his marching orders after picking up a second booking for handball on the edge of the area.
As referee Leow Thiam Hoe blew the final whistle shortly after, the disappointment of the Gombak players was clear for all to see as they slumped to the ground, wondering how they had managed to lose the game. Not for the first time this season, it was solely down to their inability to make the most of their opportunities.
Still, there were plenty of positives for Balagumaran to take from Friday's game, especially at the way his attack managed to carve out as many chances as they did against last season's runners-up. But until they find a bona fide poacher to lead the line, it seems likely that all their good work will ultimately be futile.
Gombak United: Zaiful Nizam, Ismail Yunos, Obadin Aikhena, Walid Lounis, Nurullah Hussein, Samuel Benjamin (K. Vikraman 46'), Adrian Dhanaraj (Fairoz Hasan 46'), Christopher Anderson, Mustaqim Manzur, Hafiz Rahim, Jung Hee-bong (Julien Durand 72').
Home United: Nazri Sabri, Nor Azli Yusoff, Sofiyan Abdul Hamid, Rosman Sulaiman, Firdaus Idros (Rhysh Roshan Rai 62'), Shi Jiayi, John Wilkinson, Masrezwan Masturi, Shotaro Ihata (Indra Sahdan Daud 46'), Qiu Li, Frederic Mendy.