By Gabriel Tan
While they were expected to struggle to break down the normally-watertight Balestier defence at the Toa Payoh Stadium, the Cheetahs raced to a two-goal lead inside 16 minutes thanks to a well-taken brace from Basit Hamid, the first of which came after just 21 seconds.
The Tigers came back strongly in the second half and came close to scoring on a number of occasions, but Hougang were always in control of the tie and effectively ended the contest in the 59th minute when midfield general Ante Barac curled home a sublime freekick from an acute angle.
Following an inconsistent first round of the campaign which saw them fall to several narrow - and unlucky - defeats, the Cheetahs have picked up maximum points in their last three league games, something Bacina believes his players deserve.
"I have to congratulate my players because this is definitely something they deserve," he told ESPNSTAR.com after the game. "They worked very hard for this game and I'm very glad because we knew Balestier are very well-organised and hard to break down.
"This is the way we have been trying to play since we started the campaign. Somehow in the first round, we couldn't convert our chances and were conceding some easy or unlucky goals.
"Since then, we've settled some things in the team and now we are doing well."
The Croatian tactician also revealed he was pleased his side managed to put three past Balestier, but was equally delighted his side managed to keep only their second clean sheet in the last 13 league games.
"Even playing against a well-organised side like Balestier, we managed to score three goals," Bacina added. "We wanted to put pressure on the backline by playing the ball forward early and then win the ball in the final third, that's how we managed to advance.
"We were focusing on not conceding first and it was difficult because of how good they [Balestier] are from set-pieces with Paul [Cunningham], Goran [Subara] and [Zdravko] Dragicevic, but we managed to stop them from scoring in this manner. I'm very happy with the attitude my players showed not to concede."
Balestier coach Darren Stewart refused to blame his players after the game and conceded that having to play a number of walking wounded ultimately took its toll.
"We were beaten by a better team so congratulations to them [Hougang] - they played well," Stewart said.
"It's our first loss here and there were a few of them who probably shouldn't have played with their injuries, and sometimes that's the risk you take.
"We walked out here most times this season pretty happy and you've got to sometimes accept the result won't go your way."
The Australian did admit the Tigers may now have to reassess their target of challenging for the title, although he still believes they have enough time to turn things around.
"It's not the end of the world - we still have quite a few games to get back into it," he added.
"We'll have to relook at where we want to finish now, which we'll do tomorrow [Wednesday] morning."
One positive that came out from Tuesday's game for the Tigers was the performance of mid-season signing Dragicevic, who displayed a good understanding with his team-mates and twice put them in excellent scoring positions, in what was his third game since moving to the Toa Payoh Stadium.
"It's a shame he's come in at a time when we've lacked a bit of form," Stewart said on his new Montenegrin striker.
"We haven't created anything for Draggy in his first three games but I know how good a player he is and his work rate was unbelievable."
Balestier will be looking to bounce back on Friday when they travel to Woodlands Wellington, while Hougang take on Home United a day later looking to make it four wins in a row.