By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium
Although their opponents were the better team for most of the night, and wasted several good chances to score, it was the Stags who ultimately went home with maximum points courtesy of Mustafic Fahrudin's 63rd-minute penalty; awarded after Firdaus Idros was adjudged to have handled a goal-bound header by Seiji Kaneko on the line.
The Home man also received his marching orders for that infringement, and while the disappointment on Protectors coach Lee Lim-saeng's face was clear for all to see, he must have been heartened by the way his side dominated proceedings throughout the 90 minutes.
Following Albirex Niigata (S)'s shock 2-1 loss to Woodlands Wellington on Tuesday, Tampines entered the game as the only remaining side with a perfect start to the 2013 season, but it was never going to be easy against a resurgent Home side that had won two games on the trot.
The Protectors issued the first warning sign in the 10th minute when Lee Kwan-woo went straight for goal with a freekick from the right wing and drew an unconvincing save from Sasa Dreven, before Jordan Webb skipped past a couple of opponents two minutes later to break free inside the box, only to fire into the sidenetting.
Dreven was called into action once again in the 19th minute when he kept out a low drive from Masato Fukui and, a minute later, Tampines finally had their first sighting of goal after Kaneko rose highest inside the area to meet a Shaiful Esah corner but could only send a firm header wide.
Kaneko, who netted his first goal of the season a couple of weeks ago in the 2-1 win over Balestier Khalsa, proved to be a threat again three minutes after the half-hour mark when his back-post header found Khairul Amri. The Singapore international did extremely well to improvise and meet the ball with a backheel, but just failed to send it on target.
Despite those couple of chances, it was Home who continued to look the more likely to open the scoring and three minutes later, they could have done just that but veteran striker Indra Sahdan Daud could only direct his free header straight at Dreven, after Lee had burst down the left and floated a cross straight to him.
The chances continued to flow for them after the break and seven minutes into the second half, Webb went on a mazy run down the left and drilled in a cross to the near post, only for Indra to blast wide.
Three minutes later, Indra, who was rolling back the years with an excellent display, was again left looking to the heavens after meeting a pinpoint right-wing cross from Firdaus with a firm header that sailed inches wide of the post.
By now, it looked only a matter of time before the Protectors would take the lead, but the relentless pressure did do enough to stun Tampines into action and they had a good effort in the 56th minute; Shaiful lining up a 35-yard freekick and calling Shahril Jantan into action with a well-struck effort.
But five minutes later, the Stags were handed the perfect opportunity to take the lead after Kaneko again met a Shaiful corner with a header that was destined for the corner, only for Firdaus to clear it off his line with what looked to be his hand.
Referee Abdul Malik Bashir certainly had no doubts and pointed straight to the spot before handing the Home man, who was already on a yellow, a straight red. When the dust had settled, up stepped Mustafic, who - in clinical fashion as ever - blasted his spot-kick straight down the middle to fire his side ahead.
Having finally broken the deadlock, Nenad Bacina's charges then nearly doubled their advantage eight minutes later when Shahdan Sulaiman floated a brilliant cross to Sead Hadzibulic, but the towering striker could only watch on in dismay as his perfectly-executed glancing header sailed just past the top corner.
With the numerical advantage, Tampines were now fully in control of proceedings and carved out another chance in the 73rd minute when a brilliant turn-and-pass on the edge of the area by Amri allowed Shaiful to break free inside the area. But just as he was about to pull the trigger, Sirina Camara weighed in with a terrific sliding challenge to halt the danger.
Eight minutes from time, Home had one final clear chance to salvage a deserving share of the spoils when a searching cross by Camara found Webb, whose darting run into the box had not been picked up. The Canadian, so prolific during his time at Hougang United and already with two goals to his name this year, looked odds on to equalise from eight yards out but somehowcould only steer the ball wide of Dreven's far post.
In the end, it was Tampines who were left celebrating at the final whistle, with the victory taking them three points clear at the top of the table.
Home United: Shahril Jantan, Firdaus Idros, Noh Rahman, Sirina Camara, Masrezwan Masturi (Justin Khiang 90'), Song Ui-young, Hafiz Rahim, Lee Kwan-woo (Aliff Shafaein 82'), Masato Fukui (Mustaqim Manzur 69'), Jordan Webb, Indra Sahdan Daud.
Tampines Rovers: Sasa Dreven, Jufri Taha, Kunihiro Yamashita, Seiji Kaneko, Shaiful Esah, Imran Sahib (Ahmed Fahmie 90'), Mustafic Fahrudin, Shahdan Sulaiman, Ismadi Mukhtar, Sead Hadzibulic (Aleksandar Duric 85'), Khairul Amri.
Image courtesy of Home United FC (Jaron Lee)