By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium
Although it was Hougang who drew first blood by taking a 13th-minute lead through Robert Eziakor, the Jaguars responded just before halftime when Hafiz Nor netted with a terrific deflected strike.
The Cheetahs edged ahead again in the 52nd minute when Hasree Zais pounced on an error by Aurelien Herisson to score from close range, but 15 minutes from time, Ismael Benahmed made it 2-2 with a diving header, before scoring what proved to be the winner six minutes from time with a clinical half-volley from just inside the area.
The result ensured Patrick Vallee's charges, who started the season with impressive victories over Balestier Khalsa and Warriors FC, got back to winning ways after a 1-1 draw and 3-0 defeat to Harimau Muda and Home United respectively, while their opponents are now looking for their first triumph in four matches.
Having failed to find the back of the net in their last two outings against Albirex Niigata (S) and Woodlands Wellington, Hougang coach Alex Weaver looked to give his side more of an attacking edge by deploying a three-man strike force of Liam Shotton, Eziakor and Jerome Baker - the latter coming in for the injured Mamadou Diallo.
Three minutes in, Baker nearly made an immediate impact when he picked up the ball on the edge of the area and fired in a shot that was well blocked by Zahid Ahmad. The ball fell to Jeremy Chiang who immediately whipped in a cross to Eziakor, but his acrobatic volley sailed just wide of the far post.
But ten minutes later, Hougang duly took the lead as Weaver's decision to opt for a three-pronged attack paid dividends. Picking up possession outside the box, Shotton spread it wide to Baker, who beat Azhar Ahmad with a clever fake before floating the perfect ball into the box, leaving Eziakor with a simple header to hand his side the lead.
Despite their opponents' strong start, the Jaguars gradually found their feet and were unlucky not to equalise in the 21st minute when they were denied by a double save from Fadhil Salim; the 30-year-old reacting brilliantly to parry a close-range effort by Zerka, before reacting well to claw the loose ball away just as Benahmed was about to pounce.
Five minutes later, Fadhil was called into action again when he had to push away a curling effort from Kamel Ramdani, who had decided to try his luck after Tanjong Pagar were awarded a freekick on the edge of the box.
Although the designated visitors were beginning to dominate the possession stakes, the Cheetahs continued to look threatening whenever they pushed forward, and Walid Lounis did well to block another long-range attempt from Baker, after Azhar had once again been exposed down the right by Eziakor.
But a minute before the break, the Jaguars finally found a way past Fadhil after Asraf Rashid patiently made his way down the left and hit the byline before floating a lovely ball back to Hafiz, who unleashed a cracking volley that cannoned off Syaqir Sulaiman's head before going in off the bar.
Syaqir, who has had a brilliant start to the season, could consider himself unlucky to have played a part in the opposition's equaliser, but seven minutes after the break, he made the right impact at the other end of the ground; putting enough pressure on Aurelien Herisson to make the Frenchman flap at an Azhar Sairudin cross and allowing Hasree to stab home the loose ball and restore his side's lead.
Eight minutes after the hour mark, the Cheetahs nearly went further ahead when substitute Fairoz Hasan, seconds after coming on for Shotton, picked up the ball on the edge of the area and fired in a delightful curling effort that forced Herisson into a fingertip save.
In what was turning out to be a thrilling, end-to-end encounter, it was then Tanjong Pagar's turn to threaten and Ahmad Latiff was beginning to cause all sorts of problems despite being deployed in the unfamiliar position of right-back.
Bombing forward with increasing regularity, the ex-Tampines Rovers man whipped in a dangerous cross in the 71st minute that Chiang had to head clear at the far post with Zerka lurking close by, before another lovely delivery a minute later nearly forced Syaqir into scoring an own-goal as his attempted clearance diverted the ball just wide of the post.
Nonetheless, Latiff finally found the perfect ball in the 75th minute when he was left in acres of space down the right and floated a brilliant cross to the back post straight to Benahmed, who made no mistake in guiding his diving header into the back of the net.
And having finally opened his Tanjong Pagar account in his fifth game since joining in the off-season, the Frenchman took just nine more minutes to double his tally, racing onto a lovely flick-on header by Zerka and unleashing a terrific first-time strike past Fadhil's despairing dive and into the bottom corner.
The goal ultimately proved enough to hand the Jaguars men all three points, which will guarantee them a place in the top three for another week at least, while an unlucky Hougang could find themselves out of the top half by the end of the round.
Hougang United: Fadhil Salim, Jeremy Chiang, Hasree Zais, Syaqir Sulaiman, Fazly Hasan, Faizal Amir (Nurhilmi Jasni 87'), Thomas Beattie, Azhar Sairudin, Liam Shotton (Fairoz Hasan 68'), Robert Eziakor, Jerome Baker (Sobrie Mazelan 76').
Tanjong Pagar United: Aurelien Herisson, Ahmad Latiff, Walid Lounis, Zahid Ahmad, Azhar Ahmad, Hafiz Nor (K. Vikraman 90'), Sazali Salleh, Kamel Ramdani, Asraf Rashid, Ismael Benahmed, Monsef Zerka.
Image courtesy of Tanjong Pagar United FC