By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Entering the game at the Pasir Gudang Corporation Stadium holding a slim two-point lead at the top of the table, the Stags initially looked set to drop points as they failed to find a way past the Young Tigers.
But with five minutes left on the clock, Japanese centre-back Kunihiro Yamashita headed home a corner to hand his side the win, which seems them temporarily move five points clear at the top of the table.
Following consecutive exits in the RHB Singapore Cup and Starhub League Cup, Tampines got back on track last Friday as they resumed the league campaign with a 1-0 win over Warriors FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
And it was them who started the brighter of the two sides on Wednesday, coming close as early as the seventh minute when Ilham Amirullah produced a brilliant save to keep out an Ahmed Fahmie effort, before recovering well to deny Firdaus Kasman on the rebound.
A minute later, Aleksandar Duric was next to threaten the hosts' goal as the met a Jamil Ali cross and sent a shot agonisingly wide, before the 42-year-old came close once more in the 14th minute after being played through by Shahdan Sulaiman.
The finishing touch continued to elude Duric as he found himself one-on-one with Ilham in the 25th minute but could only fire wide, and Fahmie was next to waste a good chance when he blasted over from eight yards a minute later.
Nonetheless, although they spent much of the opening 45 on the back foot, Harimau Muda could easily have entered the break in front had it not been for a fine stop by Stags goalkeeper Andre Martins, who raced off his line in time to keep out Ridzuan Abdunloh's close range with a smart save.
Nine minutes into the second half, Razip Ismail's side had another good effort at goal when Iskandar Hanapiah unleashed a 20-yard effort that sailed narrowly over the bar.
Eager to inject some extra creativity in his attack, Tampines coach Tay Peng Kee eventually introduced his new Portuguese duo of Vitor Ladeiras and Diogo Caramelo, and the latter nearly made an instant impact three minutes after the hour mark; exchanging a one-two with Fahrudin Mustafic before firing in a shot that was well kept out by Ilham.
A minute later, Caramelo had another chance when the Stags pushed forward on the counter, after Yazid Zaini had wasted a good chance at the other hand, and he found space inside the area after being picked out by Jamil, only to send his strike over from six yards.
A controversial moment then occurred in the 73rd minue when Duric raced through on goal before being brought down by Syawal Nordin, but referee Muhd Yazeen was not interested and waved away the appeals.
But in the 85th minute, Tampines finally found the breakthrough after Shahdan Sulaiman swung in a dangerous corner into the box, where it was met by Yamashita with a thumping header into the back of the net.
The strike ultimately proved enough for the three points as Harimau Muda failed to find an equaliser in the remainder of the game, allowing their opponents to extend their lead at the top of the table, at least until Friday when closest challengers Albirex Niigata (S) are in action against Courts Young Lions.
Harimau Muda: Ilham Amirullah, S. Vikneswaran (Hafis Saperi 79'), Ashmawi Yakin, Asri Mardzuki (Nashriq Yahya 88'), Ridzuan Abdunloh, Syawal Nordin, Yazid Zaini (Hanif Dzahir 74'), Akhir Bahari, Azzizan Nordin, Syazwan Tajudin, Iskandar Hanapiah.
Tampines Rovers: Andre Martins, Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic, Ahmed Fahmie (Diogo Caramelo 62'), Kunihiro Yamashita, Shahdan Sulaiman, Aleksandar Duric, Ruzaini Zainal, Firdaus Kasman (Vitor Ladeiras 48'), Seiji Kaneko, Jamil Ali (Khairul Amri 74').