By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
The Tigers entered the clash at the Toa Payoh Stadium second from bottom in the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League and in desperate need of a win, and they were handed a real boost seven minutes after the break when opposition goalkeeper Aurelien Herisson was sent off for a foul on Paul Cunningham inside the area.
Ruhaizad Ismail stepped up and successfully converted the resultant penalty before Qiu Li fired home a freekick to make it 2-0 in the 61st minute, and although Tanjong Pagar pulled one back at the death through a Kamel Ramdani spot-kick, the hosts did enough to hold out for a much-needed three points.
The contest was, at times, far from pretty as Balestier raised their physical style of play to a whole new level, but Stewart explained it was a case of needs must after playing attractive football failed to get them results in their three-game losing streak prior to Wednesday.
"I'm not sure about the last game against Woodlands [Wellington] but in the previous couple of games against Albirex [Niigata (S)] and Brunei [DPMM FC], we played some magnificent football and we couldn't get a result," he said.
"So today [Wednesday] we tried to play ugly and play route one football and get it up to the big boys up top, to see if we could change things around. And I make no apologies for not playing pretty football and it worked.
"Nobody was happy that we were second from bottom on the table and, like I said, anyone that watched our games against Albirex and in the second half against Brunei; we didn't deserve to lose those games.
"But in football, when you lose three on the bounce you're under pressure - that being me under pressure and not the boys - and they've come out tonight [Wednesday] and did me a big favour."
Although the Australian has never been one to single out individuals, it was difficult to ignore the lionhearted display from his captain Paul Cunningham, who was making his first appearance of the season after a long injury layoff.
Cunningham, regarded as one of the S.League's best centre-backs but deployed as a striker from the start, threw his body all over the place and had to be replaced after being stepped on by Herisson; the incident which led to the French goalkeeper receiving a straight red.
"I'm being honest when I say Paul has not trained with the team on the football field since November 1 last year," Stewart revealed. "That's the day before we played Brunei [in the final game of last season].
"He passed his [mandatory fitness] test and came to training. I said to him 'you're in the team' and he said 'I'm in'. There wasn't even a doubt in the boy's mind and that's courage and commitment.
"The courage that he and the team showed tonight [Wednesday]; there were a lot of 50-50 balls that we made into 70-30s. It looked like some of them might have been rough [challenges] but we weren't - we were just brave and I defy anyone who says we were dirty.
"Paul put his head in places you shouldn't put your head. He's got a cut in his head, needed a lot of stitches and got smashed in the neck.
"He's a tough lad and he wanted to stay on, so did Kim [Min-ho], but you've got to look at the welfare of the boys with the dirty field and [the risk of] infections. I'd never put the players' health at risk."
Tanjong Pagar coach Patrick Vallee did however have a differing view to his counterpart and was disappointed with the style of play the Tigers opted for.
"You saw the game and you saw what happened - this is football but it's not my kind of football," he said.
"Last Sunday, I said after the game [against Tampines Rovers] that it was a very good game and it wasn't because we had won, it's because Tampines played football. Today [Wednesday] I don't think I can say the same.
"Now I'm looking forward to the next game as that is the most important. The season is still long and now we must focus on the next game.
"We'll see what we can do against Harimau Muda but I'm happy because I'm sure Harimau Muda will play football."
The Frenchman, who led the now-defunct Etoile FC to triumphs in the league and League Cup back in 2010, was unfazed by the impending absence of first-choice keeper Herisson, who will be suspended for the next three games after his red card.
"We may have signed Aurelien and he's been our first-choice goalkeeper but we kept Shamsudin [Hashim] and I'm very confident in Shamsudin," Vallee added.
"He's not an inexperienced goalkeeper - he played in the S.League just last year.
"I know if something happens to Aurelien, Shamsudin can fill in for him. How many mistakes did he make today [Wednesday]?"
Despite the defeat, the Jaguars remain in third place while Balestier are now up to sixth on the table.
Image courtesy of Balestier Khalsa FC (Andrew Lim)