SINGAPORE - After overcoming a slow start to the season with new club Geylang International, forward Sime Zuzul is now on fire.
The 26-year-old Croat has been on an eight-game scoring streak, netting nine goals for the Eagles. It is also the longest active run for this Singapore Premier League season.
The reason for the turnaround?
"Maybe it's because my fiancee was here," he joked.
Zuzul's fiancee, Marija Strinic, has been in Singapore on holiday for the last two months, coinciding with his streak. She returns to Croatia next week.
They have been together for nearly five years and got engaged late last year when he proposed in Croatia.
He said: "Since I came (to Singapore in 2019), she would come here and stay with me for two to three months on holiday.
"But in the last two years, Covid-19 has ruined everything and I didn't see her for one year and nine months. That was a very difficult period for me.
"It's easier when I have someone close to me here and I can speak to them about everything."
On his current form, he said: "It's nice to hear that but I'm more focused on helping the team take any victory we can. The most important thing for the next game to get three points, it doesn't matter who scores."
Zuzul's rise mirrors that of his team, who also had a slow start to the season before gaining momentum in the last 10 games.
After collecting just six points from their first 11 games, Geylang have put up commendable performances in their last 10, earning 21 points while also holding title chasers Lion City Sailors and Albirex Niigata to draws.
Zuzul admitted that Geylang's new players needed some time to adapt to their new club. The Eagles have a host of new faces this season, such as Takahiro Tezuka, Hazzuwan Halim and Huzaifah Abdul Aziz.
He credited their turnaround to players understanding each other better and the club's playing style.
Zuzul, who played for Balestier Khalsa from 2019 to 2021, said: "We had to adapt to new coaching ideas so we went a bit slowly at first but now the players understand me more and this is getting us results."
Geylang coach Noor Ali, who was awarded the SPL Coach of the Month gong for July, said the team realised the issue in the first 10 games was not converting, so he had the team do more shooting drills in training.
Having midfielder Joshua Pereira and defender Tajeli Salamat in the team also freed up French midfielder Vincent Bezecourt to play a bigger attacking role, allowing him to link up with Zuzul.
Bezecourt himself has scored four goals in the last five games.
Noor Ali said: "We tried to understand how we can benefit from Vincent and Zuzul playing together up front - that was the key to our attacking.
"We also worked on certain drills to see how things can be done better and everything the boys have been doing has been translated to the game so that's nice to see."
As Geylang chase a top-four finish - they are two points behind fourth-placed Tanjong Pagar United - they will be eager to maintain their momentum.
But Noor Ali knows their next match against the Young Lions on Saturday (Aug 27) will not be an easy one and hopes Zuzul will get on the score sheet again.
He added jokingly: "I hope his fiancee keeps staying here so he keeps scoring.
"Foreign players are away from home so it's always nice to have someone with you. Zuzul has done well in the last eight games and it's been different for him playing a different kind of football from his previous club. Credit to him, he's positive, hardworking and willing to learn."
Calling the Young Lions their "bogey team" after dropping four points to the developmental side earlier in the season, he said: "We just have to focus on ourselves first. When you play a team like the Young Lions, they have nothing to lose.
"They play well in certain games and that's something we must be worried about. It's not going to be easy, they have a lot of energy and will keep on running the whole 90 minutes.
"What's important is the mental aspect of the boys. They just have to stick to the game plan and play how we want to play."
Hougang United v Lion City Sailors (Friday, 7.45pm, Hougang)
Which Hougang will turn up? The one that were impressive in a 3-3 draw with title-chasing Albirex on Aug 5 or the one that inexplicably lost 6-1 to second-from-bottom Balestier a week later?
The Cheetahs' faithful will hope to see the former in order to stand any hope of tripping up the Sailors, who have plundered 17 goals in their last two games and look irresistible going forward.
Tanjong Pagar United v Albirex Niigata (Saturday, 5.30pm, Jurong East)
The Jaguars look to snap a losing streak that has stretched to four matches as they aim to finish the season as strongly as they started, when they went six games unbeaten.
But Albirex are in good form and their front four of top scorer Kodai Tanaka (24 goals), Ilhan Fandi (14 goals), ex-Southampton man Tadanari Lee and the energetic Masahiro Sugita have found a rhythm.
Tampines Rovers v Balestier Khalsa (Sunday, 5.30pm, Our Tampines Hub)
The Stags enter the final stretch of games in third place, having finally shaken off their post-AFC Cup malaise. They have won three of their last four games.
Balestier, though, may perform above their recent choppy form in order to give head coach Akbar Nawas a good send-off. He will leave for Thai side Udon Thani after this game.