The Japanese side equalised just two minutes after their opponents had taken the lead, as both shared the spoils in an even contestIt was two very cagey sides that took the field at Jurong East Stadium on Tuesday night, when second-placed Albirex Niigata (S) met third-placed Tanjong Pagar United.
Each team was wary of the other and it was a game of cat-and-mouse for almost the entire first half, which was scoreless. The game eventually finished 1-1, a fair reflection of the proceedings.
Both teams had players behind the ball, the main difference being that while Albirex played possession football and mounted only rare attacks after the opening salvos had been fired, Tanjong Pagar had three distinct strikers - Monsef Zerka, Ismael Benahmed and Kamel Ramdani - with almost all of their remaining players adopting defensive roles.
Two early chances had fallen the way of Albirex, with Takeshi Nagasawa and Kazuki Sakamoto both firing wide from close range, before the latter managed a strong header in the 14th minute that Jaguars goalkeeper Aurelien Herisson got down to well.
After that, Albirex could offer little more than a long-range effort from Shingo Suzuki that Herisson dealt with well.
The only moment of note for the visitors in the opening period was a lob from Benahmed that flew over the bar in the 16th, and a header by Ramdani from a clever Asraf Rashid cross in the 27th that was claimed safely by Albirex custodian Hiroaki Hara.
Neither coach felt it necessary to send on any replacements until right at the end - that one from the White Swans, a cameo return to the heart of the defence by the previously injured Yuki Ichikawa, in his first appearance of the season.
Such was the faith both coaches had in the way their teams were playing, they felt no other fresh players could make a difference.
Some intelligent play from Zerka following a corner, with the benefit of a neat nod-on by skipper Walid Lounis, saw Tanjong Pagar take a 52nd minute lead.
Having hit the lead, Patrick Vallee’s team - not for the first time this season – then managed to concede within two minutes, as they undid all the hard work of their marquee player Zerka.
Bruno Castanheira, who always looked lively, managed to skip past an ineffectual tackle on the right and send over a sizzling cross that was slid into goal with precision timing by the predatory Sakamoto.
The game opened up well after that, but misses by Castanheira and also by Zerka - who now leads the goalscoring charts with five goals - in the closing stages meant that both teams had to be satisfied with a point in the end.