City’s favourite sons

2014-12-05 00:00

MARITZBURG United coach Steve Komphela said this week that his side are not yet ready to wear the “favourites” tag.

Well, they will have to get used to it fast because that is exactly what they are going into tonight’s PSL clash against Tuks at Harry Gwala Stadium.

The sides had vastly contrasting fortunes in midweek. Maritzburg stunned Orlando Pirates in Soweto 2-1, while Tuks became the first team this season to lose to strugglers AmaZulu. For that reason alone, the Team of Choice go into tonight with more reason for optimism than their Pretoria-based opponents, but there is more to it than that.

United are fourth on the log, while Tuks are 14th. United have been rejuvenated this season, making immense progress under coach Steve Komphela, while Tuks have had just one match under Sammy Troughton following former coach Steve Barker’s move to AmaZulu. If log position, consistency and current form are anything to go by, and they generally are, then only three points will do for United tonight.

Fixture congestion makes this time of year tough for all football clubs, but United striker Mohammed Anas, the two-goal hero from the win over Pirates, says that it is part of the job. Anas was pulled off on the hour mark for Zimbabwean Terrance Mandaza on Tuesday night, perhaps a sign of Komphela protecting his hit man for tonight’s match.

“Physically, I feel okay. We have had a rest in between training,” Anas told The Witness yesterday.

“If you are a professional player and you play for a big team, then this [fixture congestion] happens. You just have to stay focused and concentrate.”

This was echoed by United captain Ashley Hartog, who won man of the match against Pirates but also picked up a slight knock in that battle.

“Playing matches back to back does take its toll but if you are mentally prepared then it is fine,” he said. “I’ve had a few small knocks but nothing I can’t handle, I’m fully prepared [for Tuks].”

United remain without the injured trio of Sibusiso Kumalo, Deolin Mekoa and Mohau Mokate, but Komphela does have an otherwise fully fit squad to choose from should he opt to rotate and bring in some fresher legs. It will be tough to leave anyone out after the Pirates match, though. Certain players — Anas, Hartog, Khumbulani Banda, Mondli Cele, Thokozani Sekotlong and Nhlanhla Vilakazi — are in superb form at the moment and surely pick themselves.

The other dilemma for Komphela is in choosing his centre back pairing, where he has three internationals vying for two positions. Former West Ham United star John Paintsil partnered his Ghanaian counterpart Mohamed Awal on Tuesday, while Bafana Bafana’s Kwanda Mngonyama came off the bench. The coach won’t be able to accommodate all three and maybe the work done by the older legs of Paintsil this season will earn him a rest tonight.

“That is the best thing about Maritzburg. We have two or three players in every position, so if you mess up or get a suspension, you are going to have to fight very hard to get back into the side,” said Hartog. “Every player who comes in wants to prove to the coach that they have what it takes to stay in the team.”

In trying to pinpoint United’s recipe for success so far this season, Hartog would not single out any individuals.

“I think it has been the mentality of the guys. The hard work and consistency that has gone into the team,” the skipper said.

“We are a good working team, we understand each other and we support each other. We go into games to fight for each other,” said Anas.

Kick-off tonight is at 8 pm and the match will be televised on SuperSport Four.

FIXTURES

Tonight

8 pm — Maritzburg Utd v Tuks.

Tomorrow

3.30 pm — Orlando Pirates v Kaizer Chiefs.

6 pm — AmaZulu v Black Aces.

8.15 pm — Mamelodi Sundowns v FS Stars, Moroka Swallows v Platinum Stars, Polokwane City v Chippa United.

Sunday

3.30 pm — Ajax Cape Town v SuperSport United, Bloem Celtic v Wits.

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