By Alison ChinFollow @@AlisonChin9
After a goalless first half, Home custodian Nazri Sabri and opposition counterpart Shamsudin Hashim conceded one apiece in quick succession when Anthony Aymard put the Jaguars in the lead in the 46th minute, only for Shotaro Ihata to equalise a minute later.
But just when the game looked headed for a draw, Protectors left-back Jeremy Chiang consigned the visitors to defeat when he popped up to score a surprise winner in the eighth minute of injury-time.
A narrow loss to DPMM FC in their previous game had extinguished Home's title aspirations, but there was still plenty for them to play for on Thursday, with coach Lee Lim-saeng undoubtedly looking to avenge their 1-0 defeat his side were handed in the reverse fixture earlier in the year.
Despite entering the game six places above their opponents, the hosts were missing a number of players through injury, including stalwarts Lionel Lewis, Shi Jiayi and Qiu Li. The Jaguars, on the other hand, had much better fortune on the injury front, with skipper Delwinder Singh the only notable absentee for Terry Pathmanathan's men.
And with most of their regulars accounted for, Tanjong Pagar looked very comfortable in the early exchanges, easily crowding out opposing striker Frederic Mendy whenever the Protectors sought out their French attacker.
The Home defence attempted to do the same to their opponents but Pathmanthan's team were unfazed, passing the ball calmly from side to side just in front of Sabri's penalty box until an opening presented itself.
Ex-Home man Hafiz Nor, who returned to the Queenstown Stadium midway through the season, was the Jaguars' brightest player early on as he took on Chiang down the right wing with aplomb.
However, it was his opposite number Firdaus Idros who came close to breaking the deadlock first. Meeting a Kenji Arai cross from the left in the 10th minute, the winger's unchallenged header could have put his team in the lead if Jaguars goalkeeper Shamsudin had not palmed the effort over the bar.
Ten minutes later, Shamsudin himself was a source of attack for the visitors as his long ball sent Asraf Rashid racing down the wing, but after capitalising on some poor positioning by Nor Azli Yusoff, the 27-year-old could only watch as his dangerous delivery was scrambled away for a corner.
At the other end, the Jaguars defence were beginning to struggle with the physical threat presented by Mendy, especially from set-pieces. A freekick from Nor Azli two minutes before the half-hour mark saw the striker rise easily above his marker and nod the ball into the path of Arai, who attempted a volley that had Shamsudin well beaten, only for his effort to come back off the bar.
By now, Home were starting to look increasingly dangerous although desperate defending from Tanjong Pagar for the rest of the first half ensured both sides went into the break goalless, but the scoreline had a very different look to it just moments after the referee blew for the start of the second period.
Scoring was likely the last thing on Aymard's mind when he took a free kick from within his own half in the 46th minute. However, the ball's flight eluded everyone before bouncing over Nazri's head into goal, putting Pathmanathan's men in the lead.
Undeterred, Home responded less than a minute later when Ihata drilled in a low shot from the right side of the penalty area after being brilliantly set up by Song Ui-young.
The back-to-back strikes set the tone for what was to be an action-packed second period, as the Protectors went in search of the winner.
Ihata almost added an assist to his goal two minutes later when he sent Rhysh Roshan Rai through on goal and one-on-one with the Jaguars custodian, only for Shamsudin to come up with a fine reflex save from close range.
Shamsudin was now being afforded little protection by his defenders, all of whom could find no answer to the sudden vigour of the Protectors' attack. The goalkeeper proved the difference once again in the 57th minute when he collected Arai's powerful header from a corner just when it looked like the ball had crossed the line.
With everything they threw at him being repelled by the 26-year-old, Home began attacking at a frantic pace in hopes of forcing an error from the Tanjong Pagar custodian.
That nearly happened in the 69th minute when Shamsudin came off his line but failed to collect a freekick into the box, allowing Mendy to cut it across for the waiting Masrezwan Masturi. However, the experienced midfielder miscued his bicycle-kick attempt and allowed the opposition defence to clear away the danger.
The crosses and set-pieces continued to rain down in the Tanjong Pagar penalty box, but the visiting team were let off the hook time and time again by wayward finishing from Mendy and Indra.
Still, Lee's men could have sewed up a deserving three points when Song was brought down in the box two minutes before time after the 19-year-old had surged through the heart of the Jaguars defence.
However, Ihata failed in his attempt to get his name on the score-sheet for the second time when Shamsudin went the right way to keep out the forward's tame penalty.
Still, all that did was set up the stage for Chiang to emerge as the unlikely hero for Home, which he did eight minutes past regulation time when he capitalised on some lacklustre defending from Tanjong Pagar to lash home the winning goal.
The victory was enough to push the Protectors to fourth spot, overtaking Harimau Muda on goal difference, while Tanjong Pagar remain third from bottom after Chiang's late winner meant they left the Bishan Stadium empty-handed.
Home United: Nazri Sabri, Jeremy Chiang, Kenji Arai, Sofiyan Abdul Hamid, Shotaro Ihata, Frederic Mendy, Firdaus Idros (Indra Sahdan 53'), Rhysh Roshan Rai, Masrezwan Masturi, Nor Azil Yusoff, Song Ui-young
Tanjong Pagar United: Shamsudin Hashim (Fajar Sarib 95'), Anthony Aymard, Hafiz Osman, Jonathan Xu, Azhar Ahmad (Syed Karim 87'), Asraf Rashid (Seah Si Hao 60'), Carlos Delgado, Takaya Kawanabe, Gilbert Bayonne, Hafiz Nor, Zahid Ahmad