All set for festive game between United and Bucs

2010-02-17 00:00

AFTER a scintillating introduction last year in Orlando Pirates’ first Premier Soccer League fixture in Pietermaritzburg, Maritzburg United’s home fixture against the Buccaneers has become perhaps the most keenly-awaited match of the season in this city.

This season some edge has been lost because Pirates, thanks mainly to a shyness in front of goal, are not chasing the league title. But the switch in venue from Woodburn Stadium, where United lost 2-1 thanks to Lucas Thwala’s last-gasp header, to the newly refurbished Harry Gwala Stadium is sure to make tonight’s encounter every bit as much of a spectacle.

A capacity 12 000 crowd is expected and if the ratio of half-half is maintained from last year’s meeting it will make for an electric atmosphere.

Ruud Krol’s Pirates, for whom this was supposed to be “their season” after pushing SuperSport United for the title in 2008/09, find themselves in a disappointing fourth.

But any side containing stars such as Moeneeb Josephs, Thwala, Dikgang Mabalane, Teko Modise and Isaac Chansa, and up-and-coming talent that includes Joseph Kamwendo, Andile Jali and Happy Jele, cannot be underestimated.

United coach Ernst Middendorp said yesterday: “I was just watching this morning their games against AmaZulu [Pirates won 2-0] and SuperSport [0-0] and they are always dangerous, always creating chances, always moving the ball quickly with very quick feet.”

“Chansa is back from playing in Europe and he wants to get back into his national team. Then there are young players like Jali and Jele who have just been part of the Bafana Bafana training camp.

“But we have quality players too.” In a thinly-veiled reference to suspended defender Bageta Dikilu, the coach continued: “And as long as everyone has their heart and their mind in the right place and they wear their jersey to play for Maritzburg United then we will give Pirates a good game.”

Dikilu has been suspended pending an investigation into a suspiciously poor performance in United’s 1-0 defeat away to Mpumalanga Black Aces last Wednesday. Middendorp said he does not believe the issue has disturbed his side’s preparations for tonight’s game.

“Not really”, he said. “I think we have to forget about this game [against Aces] because we cannot change what happened. I took the player off because something definitely smelled wrong, including a period where he disappeared to change his boots.

“But there are people busy investigating the issue and for the team it is important to stay focused on tomorrow night’s game.”

United are likely to employ a similar gameplan to the one that was effective in their return to the Harry Gwala with a 1-0 victory over Lamontville Golden Arrows a week and a half ago. The Team of Choice absorbed the attacks of the stylish, dangerous Umlazi team well, then hit them with quick forays of their own.

To this end the runs and interplay of United’s own dangerous attacking trio — Kurt Lentjies, Rudolf Bester and Felix Obada — will be crucial in keeping as much pressure on the Pirates back four as the Bucs are bound to produce in the other direction.

“It’s very important the way Pirates attack from the beginning, with [goalkeeper] Josephs throwing the ball immediately to his first line of players and the team moving the ball forward quickly and building pressure from there,” Middendorp said.

“So we cannot give them any space, we have to have good structure, and then from there, when we have the ball, turning the possession into attack.”

United have John Arwuah back from a fractured elbow and the Ghanaian midfielder might be asked to slot in as a replacement for Dikilu in central defence next to Mario Booysen, with Byron Hendricks and Mor Diouf the other options.

Following their Aces defeat the 10th-placed Team of Choice have some ground to make up in the race for a top eight place, so there is all to play for tonight.

Fixtures:

Maritzburg Utd v Orlando Pirates Harry Gwala Stadium 7.30 pm (live on Supersport 4)

Platinum Stars v SuperSport United, Mamelodi Sundowns v Moroka Swallows, AmaZulu v Free State Stars, Bidvest Wits v Santos, Kaizer Chiefs v Black Aces.

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