A reason to be optimistic

2013-02-12 00:00

WITH the Africa Cup of Nations tournament over, the Moses Mabhida stadium will return to PSL duty this evening when it stages the KwaZulu-Natal derby between AmaZulu and Maritzburg United.

The two sides have had vastly different campaigns, with United performing above expectations and in fifth place on the table, while Usuthu are rock bottom and severely threatened by relegation.

Both sides will look to start the second half of the season on a positive note, and while it may be AmaZulu who are in more desperate need of points, United have shown that they are a side difficult to break down.

While Cuthbert Malajila’s availability remains a question mark for the visitors, the news from the United medical team yesterday was that he is fit and ready to play.

But with three league fixtures in eight days, coach Ernst Middendorp may look at using Terrance Mandaza as a lone striker.

How Middendorp employs his new signings will also be interesting.

The arrival of the experienced Dillon Sheppard should see him slot straight into the left of midfield, opening up a space for Delron Buckley in the middle of the park.

“We have always been looking for a natural left-footer to play on that side,” Middendorp told The Witness of his Sheppard signing.

“It has become clear that Delron is strong for us in the middle, so we are now able to play him there with more options.”

Sheppard, who worked under Middendorp at Golden Arrows, said he was thrilled to be given a new challenge in his career after sliding down the pecking order at Arrows this season.

“Ernst spoke to me during the off season and if you look at how well Maritzburg have been doing, it was quite an easy choice in the end,” said Sheppard, who turns 34 this month.

“I’ve scored a couple of goals in some of the friendlies and now I need to do that in the official games.”

Sheppard is the most likely of Middendorp’s new signings to start tonight, while Namibian first choice goalkeeper Virgil Vries will almost certainly be forced to watch veteran shot stopper Shu-Aib Walters in action from the bench.

“Shu-Aib is a very good goalkeeper and I’m learning from him and he’s learning from me,” said Vries.

“But the most important thing is competition. We have to keep each other on our toes so that we can always be ready.

“Being on the bench just means that you have to work hard.”

Ayanda Ndlovu is also back from loan at NFD outfit Sivutsa Stars, but is suspended for tonight’s clash.

Middendorp is spoilt for choice in central midfield, with Buckley, Michael Morton, Byrone Hendricks, Ruben Cloete, Ryan de Jongh, Philani Zulu and young Maritzburg College student Bandile Shandu all options for in that position.

Heinrich Isaacks, also a Namibian international, is the other new signing at Harry Gwala, and he is likely to be used as one of the attacking flanks when called upon.

But Isaacks was struggling with muscle spasms in the build-up to tonight’s match, and is likely to be given a little more time to acclimatise to the rigours of South African football.

“As a young player you always want to play in the big leagues, and the PSL is one of the best leagues in the world so I am very happy to be here,” said Isaacks.

“I am a mobile player and I can play in any attacking position — wherever the coach needs me.”

If history is anything to go by, then United have reason to be optimistic.

In 11 league meetings since 2005, United have only lost to Usuthu once, while they have notched up an impressive six wins in that time.

Tonight’s match kicks off at 7.30 and will not be televised.

• sport@witness.co.za

FIXTURES

Today:

Free State Stars v Chippa United

Mamelodi Sundowns v Kaizer Chiefs

Black Leopards v Wits

AmaZulu v Maritzburg Utd

Tomorrow:

University of Pretoria v Golden Arrows

Orlando Pirates v SuperSport United

Ajax Cape Town v Moroka Swallows

Platinum Stars v Bloem Celtic

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