By Abhishek Mehrotra
Mislav Karoglan's strike six minutes from time was enough to seal three precious points for their Warriors who moved above Gombak United to seventh in the table.
For Tampines it was the horror end to a nightmarish week that saw them lose to Albirex Niigata in the S.League before being knocked out of the AFC Cup on Wednesday after a goalless draw against Hong Kong outfit Kitchee.
In a dour first half at the Clementi Stadium, it was the Stags who dominated proceedings, without creating many clear-cut chances. With Ahmad Latiff finally making his maiden appearance in the S.League this season, having passed his beep test recently, Steven Tan's men were expected to wield a keener edge up front - but the winger failed to make much of an impact before the interval.
In fact, in the opening stages, it seemed like the shakiness of the Warriors defence, rather than any great penetration from Tampines would lead to the opening goal. Richard Bok's men had kept their first clean sheet of the season in last week's game against Hougang, but looked unsteady early on with Eddie Chang picking up a second minute booking for a foul on Ismadi Mukhtar. Soon after, both Bah Mamadou and keeper Shahril Jantan had to rely on captain Daniel Bennett to save their blushes after failing to clear their lines from crosses.
Tampines were doing well to keep the ball in the middle of the park, with Sazali Salleh pulling the strings, but failing to find the final ball - and when they did, their forwards failed to take advantage, with Ahmed Fahmie, Davor Piskor and Aleksandar Duric all failing to test Shahril from good positions.
SAFFC finally got their first shot on goal when Fazrul Nawaz's header off Chang's long throw flashed just wide before Shukor Zailan won a corner which had to be hastily cleared by the home defence.
At the other end, Latiff showed a rare moment of quality in the 35th minute - picking out Piskor with a peach of a cross, but the unmarked forward could only direct his free-header over from the edge of the area. Piskor went close again a minute later when he did welll to chest down Sazali's cross but saw his swivel shot fail to hit the target.
Having been on the backfoot for most of the match thus far, the Warriors ended the half with a flurry of free-kicks inside the Stags' half and off one cleared delivery Shukor Zailan warmed Sasa Dreven's hands with a stinging drive from 35 yards to end a flat first-half on an exciting note.
The game opened up slightly after the interval with both teams looking to up the tempo. The Warriors carved out the better chances with Shimpei Sakurada's lunging shot going wide before Zailan did superbly to nick possession off Gligor Gligorov only to see his goal-bound shot blocked. Karoglan's cross was then palmed away by Dreven right into the path of Duric, who ran almost the length of the pitch before planting his left-footed strike close to the corner flag.
Tampines were tightening the noose with Sazali and Gligorov both delivering some good balls into the area, but having stuttered early on, the Warrirors defence was showing all the resilience it had exhibited against Hougang with Bennett leading from the front. However, they were caught unawares in the 67th minute when Latiff second quality delivery of the night found Duric completely unmarked, but the veteran striker failed to test Shahril at all.
Having played a testing encounter against Kitchee only three days ago, the Stags were starting to show signs of tiredness, allowing the visitors far more leeway in the final third. Zulfadli Zainal Abidin's chip over the defence saw Fazrul round the keeper but then fail to find the net from an extremely acute angle before Karoglan shot narrowly wide after having nicked the ball off teammate Tatsuro Inui inside penalty area.
Inui looked visibly frustrated but his Bosnian teammate would make amends in the best possible manner ten minutes later. All the hard work was done by Sakurada - the midfielder weaved his way past three defenders into the Tampines' box before finding Karoglan with a short pass. Despite the presence of yellow shirts all around him, the striker managed to turn and dink the ball over the onrushing Dreven to hand his side the lead just six minutes from time.
Having run themselves into the ground, the Stags were unable to gird themselves for one last assault on the visitors' goal. In fact it was the Warriors who could have doubled their lead soon after when Fazrul shot straight at the keeper - but to his credit the striker did superbly to run down the clock in the final minutes and seal a second successive 1-0 win for his side, bringing to an end a forgettable few days for Steven Tan's men.
Tampines: Sasa Dreven, Benoit Croissant, Fahrudin Mustafic, Jufri Taha, Ismadi Mukhtar, Sazali Salleh, Ahmad Latiff, Ahmed Fahmie, Davor Piskor, Gligor Gligorov, Aleksandar Duric (c)
Subs: Jamil Ali for Davor Piskor (72'), Ali Hudzaifi for Sazali Salleh (83'), Fazil Zailani for Ahmed Fahmie (90')
Yellow Cards: Jamil Ali (81')
SAFFC: Shahril Jantan, Zulfadli Zainal Abidin, Bah Mamadou, Daniel Bennett (c), Eddie Chang, Tatsuro Inui, Shimpei Sakurada, Erwan Gunawan, Shukor Zailan, Mislav Karoglan, Fazrul Nawaz
Subs: Noh Rahman for Erwan Gunawan (66'), Razaleigh Khalik for Eddie Chang (81'), Hafsyar Rehman for Mislav Karoglan (89')
Goals: Mislav Karoglan (84')
Yellow Cards: Eddie Chang (2'), Fazrul Nawaz (41'), Razaleigh Khalik (91')