Home ground, high hopes

2011-11-29 00:00

MARITZBURG United return to the Harry Gwala stadium tomorrow night for the first time in six matches with a PSL clash against Free State Stars, and the home game couldn’t have come at a better time for coach Ian Palmer’s Team of Choice.

United have not won in four PSL matches after a start to the season that saw the side go seven matches undefeated and climb to third position on the log.

It has been a difficult spell on the road for United, with losses to SuperSport United, Santos and Mamelodi Sundowns falling either side of a 0-0 draw with Kaizer Chiefs in Port Elizabeth.

Stars are performing above expectations so far this term and are in fifth position on the ever-changing PSL log, with 18 points, four ahead of United, who occupy the 11th spot with 14 points.

Palmer knows that wins against Stars tomorrow night and KwaZulu-Natal rivals Amazulu in Durban on Sunday would go a long way towards putting his side back in the top half of the table.

He will be boosted by the return to fitness of midfielders Kurt Lentjies and Michael Morton, who picked up knocks in last weekend’s defeat to Sundowns.

United’s first-choice striker, Diyo Sibisi, sat out of that match through suspension and used the time off to recover from a niggling ankle injury that has bothered him all season.

“Diyo has joined the rest of the team and he doesn’t seem to be in any pain or discomfort,” coach Palmer told The Witness yesterday. “He looked really good at training today but we will only make a decision on him tomorrow.”

A fit Sibisi might be crucial to United’s goal scoring aspirations, but Palmer said it is not only up to his strikers to come up with the goals during this difficult time.

“When we went on our seven game undefeated run we were getting goals from everywhere and that is the type of football that we need to revisit,” the former Orlando Pirates striker said.

“We have the players who can score goals.”

Palmer pointed out that attacking midfielder Prince Olomu, who was touted as the club’s signing of the year in pre-season, had been unlucky in front of goal in Maritzburg colours.

“Prince has been really good the last couple of games,” said Palmer.

“He has been unlucky and we are just hoping that he can get that first goal under his belt.”

United will be without central midfielder Chillies Madondo, who is in Morocco with Shakes Mashaba’s South African U23 charges, and Palmer says this will be an opportunity for Michael Morton to put his hand up and stake a claim for a regular first team starting place.

“I thought that Chillies was outstanding against Sundowns; he closed down so much space throughout the game,” explained Palmer. “He is away now and Michael will have an opportunity to impress in that position.”

With United desperate for three points, tomorrow night’s match has the ingredients to entertain and Palmer has labelled the first 15 minutes as crucial.

“They [Free State Stars] are an aggressive side that like to unsettle teams in the first 15 minutes,” he said. “They rely heavily on the long ball and they make it difficult for opposing teams to adjust to their style of play.

“We have studied a few tapes and we will be the ones trying to put them on the back foot.”

Kick-off tomorrow is at 7.30 pm and the match will not be televised.

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