By Abhishek Mehrotra
It was not the comprehensive win most were expecting but Imran Sahib's goal a minute from the interval was enough to secure all three points after Gilbert Bayonne had cancelled out Benoit Croissant's 20th minute opener.
Riding high after completely outplaying Woodlands in their 3-0 win a few days ago, Tampines started the brighter of the two sides with Ahmad Latiff waking the crowd up with a spectacular scissor-kick attempt in the fifth minute. The midfielder failed to connect cleanly however, and his looping shot was easily collected by Fajar Sarib.
Gligor Gligorov wasted a great chance, putting in a free-kick from 30 yards out that was neither a cross nor a shot on goal. The Stags were creaking through the gears though, with Imran in particular looking dangerous on the right.
The 30-year-old was heavily involved in one of the best moves of the game in the 20th minute, when Tampines stroked the ball around with aplomb right outside the Jaguars' area to the tune of 20-odd passes but Jamil Ali's shot was palmed behind by Sarib. That attack certainly deserved a goal, and in an indirect way, that's exactly what happened.
Benoit Croissant, who had been in an adventurous mood in the opening stages, rose highest at the far post from the subsequent corner to nod the ball home.
The visitors could have been up by two goals two minutes later if not for Hanafi Salleh who did superbly to back-pedal and head away Imran's cross with Aleksandar Duric completely unmarked at the far post.
The Jaguars had barely threatened thus far, but pounced on glaring errors by Croissant and Tampines keeper Sasa Dreven to equalise in the 28th minute. First, the Frenchman completely misread a crossfield ball from Takaya Kawanabe, allowing Asraf Rashid to run through on goal.
The winger's stinging drive seemed to be going wide of the left post, but an unsure Sasa dived full length to his left, parrying it right into the path of Gilbert Bayonne three yards from goal, and the new signing thrashed it into the roof of the net.
Just like Tampines earlier in the game, the Jaguars could have got two in two minutes when Kawanabe's cross seemed destined for the unmarked Bayonne three yards from goal, but Fahrudin timed his jump perfectly to clear the danger away.
Having nearly fallen behind, the Stags began to reapply the pressure with Latiff carving space for himself to get a shot off before Gligorov's deflected free-kick tested Fajar in the 39th minute. Imran's square for Hadzibulic was then well cut out by Fajar in the 42nd minute but the Tanjong Pagar custodian was helpless to prevent the midfielder from scoring two minutes later.
Delvinder Singh fouled Ismadi Mukhtar inside his own half and the latter's free-kick from the left evaded everyone in the centre before falling to a completely unmarked Imran on the far right, and the former Singapore international took one touch before lashing home at the near post to ensure his side would go into the break 2-1 up.
The tempo of the game slowed down significantly in the second-half, with Tampines in particular looking leggy with this being their second game in three days, and only a moment of inspired defending from Fahrudin preserved their lead in the 65th minute.
Once again, it was Asraf's stinging shot from distance that Sasa failed to hold on to, and once again it was Bayonne stationed three yards from goal, but this time Fahrudin blocked the shot with a magnificent sliding tackle - a save that would ultimately allow his side to walk away with all three points.
Latiff nearly secured the win 19 minutes from time, doing brilliantly to bring down a Duric only to see his volley flash just wide with Fajar beaten. At the other end, Sasa redeemed himself somewhat - his outstretched leg saving Syaiful Iskandar's shot from the right in the 83 minute after Ismadi had allowed the substitute to run through on goal.
Both sides had chances to score in the dying stages with Jamil finding the side netting after waltzing past three Tanjong Pagar defenders and Bayonne directing a glancing header straight at Sasa in injury time. In the end, Hadzibulic intelligently ran down the clock by keeping the ball close to the home side's corner flag as the Stags once again laid down the gauntlet to second-placed Albirex Niigata who play Harimau Muda on Sunday.
Tanjong Pagar: Fajar Sarib, Anthony Aymard, Hanafi Salleh, Zahid Ahmad, Hafiz Osman, Delwinder Singh, Jonathan Xu, Asraf Rashid, Carlos Delgado, Takaya Kawanabe, Gilbert Bayonne
Subs: Azhar Ahmad for Jonathan Xu (46'), Hafiz Nor for Delvinder Singh (71')
Goals: Gilbert Bayonne (28')
Yellow Cards: Hanafi Salleh (31')
Tampines: Sasa Dreven, Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic, Benoit Croissant, Gligor Gligorov, Imran Sahib, Ahmad Latiff, Imran Sahib, Jamil Ali, Sead Hadzibulic, Aleksandar Duric
Subs: Ahmed Fahmie for Benoit Croissant (83'), Sazali Salleh for Aleksandar Duric (90')
Goals: Benoit Croissant (20'), Imran Sahib (44')