Ernst’s encore off to a tricky start

2012-02-15 00:00

PSL action resumes this evening after almost two months and Maritzburg United have a tricky assignment away to Wits in Johannesburg.

The match will be the first of Ernst Middendorp’s latest stint at the club and both he and chairperson Farouk Kadodia will be under pressure to show that the decision to part ways with former coach Ian Palmer last month was the correct one.

The sides met on the opening day of the season in Pietermaritzburg and played to a 2-2 draw in a match that was goalkeeper Tashrique Goldman’s last for United.

Goldman had a howler that day, but United were saved by goals from Diyo Sibisi and Wayne Matle.

Middendorp will be buoyed by the fact that while occupying eighth position on the PSL log, Wits have a relatively poor record at home this season, losing three of their eight games at Bidvest Stadium so far.

What will be of most interest to United fans is how Middendorp sets up his side for tonight’s affair.

Palmer favoured a 4-5-1 formation with Sibisi as a lone striker. Middendorp does not have the option of Fadlu Davids up front as the former club captain has taken a coaching role at the club.

But the arrival of Zimbabwean striker Cuthbert Malajila provides the German coach with another option.

A known fan of Prince Olumu’s goal-scoring ability, Middendorp may also decide to use the Nigerian as a second striker to either Sibisi or Malajila in a more conventional 4-4-2.

United’s back four are unlikely to be altered much, with Mor Diouf and Byrone Hendricks still favourites to occupy the two centre-back positions.

Middendorp then has a choice between Rheece Evans, Thabang Matuka, Peter Petersen and Morne Davids to make up the two fullbacks.

Evans and Matuka were more consistent towards the end of last year, but Middendorp may not want to overlook Petersen’s experience in a match where United will need to deal with the attacking threats of Ryan Chapman and company.

In central midfield Middendorp is again spoilt for choice.

With Michael Morton one of the very few players in the squad not to have worked with Middendorp before, it will be interesting to see if the former Orlando Pirates man slots straight into the new coach’s plans.

Morton enjoyed a good run of form towards the end of last year and was instrumental in United’s last win — a 3-1 home victory over Jomo Cosmos in a performance that appeared to have saved Palmer’s job.

Other options for Middendorp in central midfield are Chillies Madondo, Kurt Lentjies and JB Ncubeni, all of whom blew hot and cold at different teams during the first round of fixtures.

Out wide, Felix Obada will surely be included on one of the wings while Ncubeni, Sheldon Lawrence and Davids will be in contention for a place on the other.

United have not lost to Wits in a league encounter since 2008, but there is a lot at stake in tonight’s match as Middendorp will be desperate to get his side moving up the log in the chase for a top-half finish.

The province’s other two clubs also have unenviable fixtures tonight. Middendorp’s former club, Golden Arrows, travel to Bloemfontein Celtic while AmaZulu host title contenders Mamelodi Sundown at Moses Mabhida.

United’s match kicks off at 7.3 pm and will not be televised.

TONIGHT’S FIXTURES

Orlando Pirates v Black Leopards

Moroka Swallows v Santos

Ajax Cape Town v Platinum Stars

SuperSport United v Free State Stars

Jomo Cosmos v Kaizer Chiefs

AmaZulu v Mamelodi Sundowns

Bloem Celtic v Golden Arrows

Wits v Maritzburg United

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