It’s a must-win game for United

2013-03-02 00:00

THERE will be PSL soccer at Harry Gwala Stadium for the first time since December 18, 2012, when Maritzburg United host struggling Black Leopards in what is a must-win game for the Team of Choice tomorrow.

With their home fixture against Mamelodi Sundowns last month moved to Port Elizabeth, United have paid the price for spending too much time on the road with a string of lacklustre performances that have seen them unable to find the back of the net in any of their three league matches this year.

But while the fans and players may be relieved to be back at Harry Gwala, coach Ernst Middendorp’s home record this season — two wins from 10 matches — is poor considering that United still occupy fifth place on the PSL log.

Just two points separate United in fifth and Mamelodi Sundowns in 10th, so if United are to consolidate their position in the top half of the table, then victory at home against a relegation-threatened side such as Leopards is surely imperative.

But Middendorp refuses to hype up tomorrow’s clash.

“Obviously, it is important for us to win and we need to start getting the points to improve our position,” he said. “But I don’t want to say that this is our biggest game of the season — we are just looking for an improved performance.”

As United continue in their struggle to find the back of the net and end a goal drought that has lasted for over six and a half hours of competitive soccer, Middendorp has called on his players to calm down.

“In the forward movement we just need to be a little bit calmer, that is what I am really looking for,” the coach said.

With only attacking midfielder Heinrich Isaacks ruled out of tomorrow’s match through injury, Middendorp has a near fully fit squad to choose from, after a host of players spent this week recovering from various knocks.

But, and perhaps most significantly, Zimbabwean striker Cuthbert Malajila is suspended for the clash, after reaching his yellow card limit in the Nedbank Cup penalty shoot-out win over the University of Pretoria. Malajila has scored eight of United’s 18 goals this season and is the joint third-highest goal scorer in the PSL this season.

In his absence, Middendorp will have to find goals from elsewhere and he is likely to turn to Malajila’s burly Zimbabwean counterpart, Terrance Mandaza, to do the business as a lone striker.

The formula for United this season has been clear — don’t concede and we can win any game. But while that emphasis on defence worked in the first half of the campaign, it has backfired somewhat in the second, and it might just be time for Middendorp and United to think more about scoring goals than conceding any.

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