Hougang count on Kogure and Kaplan
The Hougang United faithful will be heartened by their club's ambition with the signing of two of the best imports from last season in S.League Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure and Jozef Kaplan.
But it remains to be seen if they can form a telepathic partnership with Croatian attacking midfielder Stipe Plazibat.
Pre-season results are not encouraging.
K Balagumaran's men beat amateur side Tiong Bahru (3-1) and the Garena Young Lions (4-2), but lost 2-0 to Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata, 3-2 to Warriors FC and also suffered defeats by Thai sides Suphanburi (2-1) and Air Force Central (3-1).
However, defender Delwinder Singh remains optimistic ahead of the new season, which kicks off tomorrow with the Charity Shield.
"Unlike Tampines whose new players were previously from the same team, ours have come from different clubs," said the 23-year-old.
"Our friendly results have not been that impressive, but we are gelling well and what counts is what happens in the season.
"If people think they can beat us easily, it is up to us to prove them wrong and show what we are capable of."
- Last season's finish: Last out of 10 teams
- TNP's prediction: 7th out of 9 teams
- Key players in: Jozef Kaplan (Geylang), Fumiya Kogure; near left (Albirex Niigata), Stipe Plazibat (NK Dugopolje, Croatia), Iqbal Hussain (Young Lions), Nazrul Ahmad Nazari and Raihan Rahman (LionsXII)
- Key players out: Kunihiro Yamashita (Yangon United, Myanmar), Diego Gama, Vuk Sotirovic, Lau Meng Meng, Faizal Amir (all released)
- Man to watch: Jozef Kaplan The 29-year-old Slovak had an enviable record of almost a league goal in every other game across three seasons (44 in 95) when handed a free role at Geylang International, but did not fare as well when he was shunted out to the wings at Negeri Semiblan and Tampines. Hougang's fortunes could well hinge on whether he can deliver in the Cheetahs' colours.
- The coach: K Balagumaran This is the 51-year-old's second stint as a head coach of an S.League club after leading Gombak United to ninth spot in the S.League and third place in the Singapore Cup in 2012. Bala has a good reputation of grooming young players from his days with the National Football Academy and it will be interesting to see how he fares on his return to the S.League.
FIRST FIVE FIXTURES
- Feb 18 (7.30pm): v Home United (Hougang Stadium)/H
- Feb 26 (7.30pm): v Tampines Rovers (Jurong West Stadium)/A
- March 4 (7.30pm): v Brunei DPMM FC (Jalan Besar Stadium)/H
- March 10 (7.30pm): v Garena Young Lions (Jalan Besar Stadium)/A
- March 19 (7.30pm): v Balestier Khalsa (Hougang Stadium)/H