Back in August, Croatian striker Stipe Plazibat was still a Hougang United player.

However, the fast-changing and unpredictable nature of football is such that barely two months later, the 31-year-old now finds himself a mainstay in the Lion City Sailors first-team, and is set to play against Hougang – instead of for them – this Wednesday evening (Nov 4).

But as far as Stipe is concerned, the Hougang chapter of his football career is firmly behind him, as he gears up for the Sailors’ crunch match against the Cheetahs.

“For sure, playing your former team is always a bit emotional. But as a professional player, I put those feelings aside because it’s now my job to give my best for my new team – just like how I gave my all when I was playing for Hougang,” said Stipe, who crossed the Hougang-Bishan divide for the second time back in September.

“I had a great time with Hougang, and they’ll always have a special place in my heart because they’re my first club in Singapore. Of course, it’ll be nice to see them (the former teammates and coaches) again. But now, my focus is to help the Sailors do well and achieve the ambitions that are set out for the club.”

This is not the first time that Stipe will be facing the Cheetahs. Back in 2017, when he was with Home United, he played five times against Hougang, and even scored in each of the first four matches.

The Croatian hotshot, however, believes his decent goalscoring record against Hougang is down to more than just having internal knowledge of his former teammates.

“Knowledge might be a factor, but I don’t really think that’s everything. I tend to play well in most matches, not just against Hougang, because I make sure I prepare properly for the game,” he shared.

“Apart from the video analysis done by the club, I will also personally watch videos of the defenders I’m coming up against. From there, I do a lot of mental preparations by visualising some situations that I might find myself in.”

Stipe had previously experienced a mixed reception from his former supporters in the Hougang HOOLS (Hougang’s unofficial supporters’ club) when he came up against the Cheetahs, but he believes it will be a different scenario this time round – not least because no fans are allowed in the stadium.

In addition, Stipe took the initiative to inform the HOOLS about his impending move to the Sailors before it was officially announced.

“I remember the reception for the first few matches was good, but that wasn’t really the case for the last couple of matches. But this time round, I believe there will only be positives because they understand a bit better about my move,” he said.

Stipe had a pleasant experience playing against a former club when he was playing in Japan’s J2 League in 2014. Just 19 days after leaving FC Gifu in the mid-season transfer window, Stipe went on to play them in the colours of V-Varen Nagasaki. While Stipe ended up on the losing side that day, the positive reception he received from the Gifu fans remains etched in his mind.

“The reception from the Gifu fans was fantastic. They really respected me and they showed their appreciation towards me for one more time during that game,” he recalled.

So far, it has been a solid start to Stipe’s Sailors career, with his brace in last week’s 5-0 win over Young Lions making it four goals in three matches. However, as someone who demands high standards from himself, the Spilt native is determined to do even better in the coming weeks.

“I’m happy with my contributions so far, but I’m very rarely satisfied with current numbers. I’m always looking to improve further and that’s just my nature,” he emphasised.

“To be honest, I’m still not at my best yet and I believe I can do even more in the upcoming matches.”

Going up against a Hougang side which has shored up their defence, and who understands perfectly well how Stipe plays, will not be easy. That is why Stipe believes the Sailors will have to ‘do everything’ in order to get the crucial three points as they seek to chase down league pacesetters Tampines Rovers in the title race.

“From what I saw from their last two matches (a 2-1 win over Tampines Rovers and a 0-0 draw against Tanjong Pagar United), they’ve been playing very defensively. So, we need to be very patient and disciplined in order to get the win,” he said.

“Hopefully we can improve from our last game, and it’s important that we score from our first real chance.”