Kaplan happy to let Plazibat take the plaudits, for now

While glad to see strike partner Stipe Plazibat producing the goods, Hougang United captain Jozef Kaplan is relishing the opportunity to break his duck for the Cheetahs when they host winless Balestier Khalsa on Saturday night.  

He has scored more than 50 S.League goals in just over three seasons with Geylang International and Tampines Rovers, but Jozef Kaplan is yet to open his accounts for Hougang United so far this term.   

However, Kaplan said he preferred to focus on the exploits of his Croatian strike partner Plazibat – who has scored four goals in as many appearances and is joint top-scorer alongside Albirex's Atsushi Kawata and Warriors FC's Jonathan Behe.

“Yes I may not have scored yet, but it’s by no means frustrating to me,” he told FourFourTwo. “We’re all working hard for the team and each other, so it doesn’t matter who scores the goals as long as we win.

“At the moment, Stipe is the only player to have scored for us and it’s great to have a player like him in the team. He works very hard during training and games; setting a good example for all the players.

“Even though he’s younger than me, I’m also learning from his attitude and desire; you can see the reason why he was playing in the J2 League in Japan previously.

“Hopefully he will continue to score more goals, but at the same time we must remember it’s not about one player. It’s important that we combine well together as a team and deliver the results.”

Kaplan is happy for striker partner Stipe Plazibat to stay in the limelight.

After finishing bottom of the league last season – the first time since the club was renamed as Hougang United in 2011 – the Cheetahs management decided that change was necessary as just five players were retained.

In came Kaplan and a host of players from the LionsXII and Garena Young Lions, including Raihan Rahman, Nazrul Nazari, M. Anumanthan and Nur Ridho Jafri.

This new-look side is enjoying a rather positive start to the year so far, with two wins, one draw and one loss.

They are now fourth in the table – just a point off leaders Albirex Niigata (S), but Kaplan is keen to warn his teammates not to rest on their laurels.

“The mood in the camp is good because of the good start to the season, but I personally feel we still have many areas to improve on,” explained the 29-year-old.

“We cannot forget that the season is still very long, so we have to train harder and harder instead of taking it easy.

“Fortunately, we have coach Bala (K Balagumaran) and the other coaching staff around; they’ve been showing the right way for us to improve ourselves and become better professional players.”

Next up for Hougang is a tricky home task against a Balestier side which is tough to beat despite having not won in the league yet this season.

The Tigers are notoriously hard to beat, Kaplan warns.

Marko Kraljevic’s side have drawn three successive games since the season-opening 1-0 defeat to the Young Lions, two of those (against Albirex Niigata (S) and Warriors FC) in which they came behind to gain a point.

“I’ve seen their matches this season in the league and in the AFC Cup; they’ve showed why they’re such tough opponents to play against,” he explained.

“So we cannot take them for granted, even though they haven’t won this season. We’ve to put in the hard work, just like how we did against Home (United) and (Brunei) DPMM. If not, we will not win this game.”

Kaplan does have a decent scoring record against the Tigers, with a tally of six goals while playing for previous clubs Geylang International and Tampines Rovers in the past – something which he himself could not find an explanation for.

“Well, I don’t particularly fancy playing them!” he quipped. “Maybe it’s just luck? But hopefully no matter what, I can continue this good run on Saturday and score my first goal for Hougang.”

Photos: S.League