Defending champions Tampines Rovers fell behind early but claimed three points after a second-half rally
Tampines Rovers and Balestier Khalsa had played their previous matches only four days earlier, thus changes to both starting line-ups appeared inevitable at Clementi Stadium on Sunday evening.
For a long while it looked as if Tigers’ coach, Darren Stewart, had made the better calls, but Stags’ team boss, Nenad Bacina, had one ace up his sleeve, producing it right near the end of a game his side finally won 2-1.
Tampines were missing Firdaus Kasman, on reservist duty and elected to start Jamil Ali, while for the first time marquee midfielder, Argentinean Martin Wagner, was relegated to the bench.
Jamil Ali picked up a knock early on, but Ismadi Mukhtar, proved a more than able replacement in the 21st minute.
Balestier had to leave Qiu Li out of contention, due to injury, but welcomed back goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, who made his first start of the season to much acclaim.
The Tigers took the lead in the 10th minute when Patrick Paran, in for Hamqaamal Shah, turned Shaiful Esah inside out before getting the by-line to send over a low cross for Korean Kim Min Ho to steer home from close range.
After that there was little to choose between either side, although, Balestier, perhaps, having a slight edge, with a number of their players showing solid form, Park Kang Jin, Tengku Mushadad and keeper Zaiful among them.
Even after scoring the first goal Balestier looked a threat every time they moved forward, but Tampines had their chances too, Shahdan Sulaiman and Khairul Amri firing wide from scoring range.
In the 56th minute referee Abdul Malik turned down appeals for a penalty after Park had been brought down by Seiji Kaneko,
After that Tampines began to show more resolve and from an exquisitely-delivered corner from the right by Shaiful Esah an unmarked Kaneko, at the far post, headed home powerfully to bring the scores level in the 59th.
The introduction of Aleksandar Duric in the 79th minute proved decisive for the Stags in wrapping up the three points ten minutes later.
Duric, out wide on the left, evaded a tackle and set off on a sustained run that ended with a cross into the middle. Amri fooled the Balestier defenders by leaving the ball for Shahdan who had time to measure his winning shot from 12 yards.