By Noah TanFollow @@Noah_Tan
Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium
Tanjong Pagar, the top-scoring side in the league, were frustrated for large parts of the first-half at the Jalan Besar Stadium by a resolute Young Lions defence, but their superior quality ultimately told as Benahmed opened the scoring with a predatory strike in the 35th minute.
Benahmed doubled his side's advantage seven minutes after the restart before Jaguars marquee signing Monsef Zerka sealed the victory in the 71st minute when he headed in Ahmad Latiff's inviting cross.
The Jaguars were not yet done with the Young Lions however as Benahmed put the icing on the cake with a cheeky finish to complete his hat-trick as Patrick Vallee's men moved above Albirex Niigata (S) into second.
Going up against the only team in the S.League yet to pick up a single point this season, Tanjong Pagar expectedly started the game in confident fashion and dictated possession right from the get-go.
But it was the Young Lions who created the first real opportunity of note in the fifth minute. Sherif El-Masri's brilliant turn left his marker for dead and he cleverly cut the ball back into the box for Fareez Farhan, but the 18-year-old's scuffed shot trickled just wide of the far post.
That stung the Jaguars into action and they very nearly opened the scoring seven minutes later. A cross from the left into the Young Lions box was half cleared, the ball fell kindly to Hafiz Nor at the edge of the area, but he could only send his volleyed effort over the bar.
The visitors were presented with an even better opportunity two minutes later. Firman Hanif inexplicably gave the ball away to Benahmed just outside his penalty box, but the French forward's rushed shot sailed harmlessly into the stands.
However, the Jaguars grew uncharacteristically careless as the half progressed, and the Young Lions, buoyed by how easily the Queenstown Stadium outfit were giving away possession, started growing in confidence. Fareez and Sherif in particular were looking lively in attack, and it was the former who very nearly gave his side the lead in the 30th minute when he skilfully evaded two challenges before unleashing a 25-yard shot at goal which curled narrowly wide.
But the Young Lions' renaissance was short-lived. With defenders Sheikh Abdul Hadi and captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman suspended for this game, both Eddie Chang and Firman were drafted into the side to form a makeshift defensive partnership. The pair's lack of understanding with each other soon proved costly as the Jaguars broke the deadlock in the 35th minute. Both defenders were guilty of ball-watching and failed to deal with Latiff's low cross from the right which found Benahmed completely unmarked in the box, and the 24-year-old forward simply tapped the ball into an unguarded net.
Going a goal down seemed to reinvigorate the Young Lions, and they came agonisingly close to an equaliser 10 minutes later when midfielder Anumanthan seized on a loose ball just outside the box and fired a fierce shot at goal which rebounded off the post.
Having come so close to seeing their lead wiped out before the break, Tanjong Pagar started the second-half on the front foot as they sought to double their advantage. And their attacking intent duly paid dividends in the 52nd minute when a brilliant team move ultimately culminated with Benahmed scoring his second of the night when he clinically finished Asraf Rashid's cross from the left.
Barely two minutes later, Benahmed almost scored his third when Latiff released him on the right with a brilliant through pass, but the French forward's woeful effort flew over the bar.
The Young Lions were undeterred from going two goals down however and pressed forward with renewed vigour. Their adventurous spirit was almost rewarded in the 59th minute when Iqbal Hussain stole the ball off Sazali Salleh outside the box, but despite doing well to make space for the shot, the 19-year-old only succeeded in dragging his shot past the far post.
The lively Fareez got the home fans on their feet nine minutes later when he made a 30-yard drive through the middle of the pitch and laid the ball on a platter for Sherif, but the usually reliable Canadian failed to keep his composure and skyrocketed his attempt from 15 yards out.
That was as good as it got for Aide's men as the Jaguars made sure of the win 13 minutes later with a superb third goal. Ahmad Latiff was excellently released down the right by Hafiz, and the former Tampines Rovers player's accurate cross was directed into the back of the net by the head of current S.League top goalscorer Monsef Zerka.
Three minutes later, the effervescent Benahmed became the second Tanjong Pagar player to score a hat-trick this season when he latched onto Hafiz's outstanding through pass and delicately chipped the ball past the hapless Rudy Khairullah from close range.
Things almost got even worse for the Young Lions 10 minutes from time when Kamel Ramdani rattled the crossbar with a splendid long-range effort which left Young Lions goalkeeper Zulfairuuz Rudy, on as a 77th-minute substitute for Rudy, grasping at air.
Despite the home side's valiant attempt to pull a goal back in the closing stages, Tanjong Pagar held firm as the Young Lions suffered their ninth defeat of the campaign, their worst ever opening to a season in the team's 11-year history.
Courts Young Lions: Rudy Khairullah (Zulfairuuz Rudy 77'), Firman Hanif, Tajeli Salamat (Farhan Rahmat 50'), Eddie Chang, M Anumanthan, Shamil Sharif (Ignatius Ang 62'), Raihan Rahman, Sherif El-Masri, Iqbal Hussain, Sufianto Salleh
Tanjong Pagar: Aurelien Herisson, Azhar Ahmad, Walid Lounis, Zahid Ahmad, Asraf Rashid, Kamel Ramdani, Hafiz Nor (K. Vikraman 84'), Sazali Salleh, Ahmad Latiff (Hanafi Salleh 77'), Monsef Zerka, Ismael Benahmed (Rizawan Abdullah 80')
Image courtesy of Tanjong Pagar United FC