It’s snakes or ladders for United tonight

2013-04-17 00:00

MARITZBURG United will play at Harry Gwala Stadium for the second last time this season when they host KwaZulu-Natal rivals Golden Arrows in a PSL clash tonight.

While United still have two home matches remaining after tonight’s clash, one of those — against Moroka Swallows on April 26 — will be played at Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay stadium.

The importance of tonight’s clash to United’s ambitions for a top eight finish cannot be overstated. Victory could see coach Ernst Middendorp’s men elevated from sixth to fourth place on the log, while defeat could see them slip outside of the top eight for the first time since the early stages of the season.

But with the rat race for top eight finishes well and truly in top flight, Middendorp has remained realistic regarding his expectations for the season.

“I think if we look back, our target has always been a top eight finish and if we can do that it would have been a fantastic achievement for the club,” he said.

On what we have seen so far this season, United should enter tonight as clear favourites to pick up all three points.

Arrows have endured a frustrating 2012/13 campaign that has seen them constantly near the relegation zone. But under coach Manqoba Mngqithi, Arrows have found a competitive edge in recent weeks that was highlighted by a 0-0 draw with log leaders Kaizer Chiefs in their last encounter.

A former coach at Arrows, Middendorp has never been one for letting personal circumstances get in the way of the job at hand. Instead, he will be looking for his side to rid themselves of the defensive carelesness that cost them in Saturday’s Nedbank Cup quarter-final defeat to SuperSport United.

The coach, who was exceptionally critical of the performances of centre back Mohamed Awal and winger Heinrich Isaacks against SuperSport, has hinted that changes to his starting lineup will be made tonight.

“I think we have to [make changes],” said Middendorp. “As I said, the game against SuperSport was a disappointment. We lost it, they didn’t win it. We have to go into this game looking at the guys who didn’t perform and see how we can best prepare ourselves to get the three points.”

One change that is out of Middendorp’s hands is that of fullback/winger Rheece Evans, whose controversial red card against SuperSport sees him miss out tonight through suspension.

Middendorp is likely to turn to Peter Petersen at right back should he opt for a more conventional back four as opposed to employing the three centre backs and two wing backs that he used against SuperSport.

Awal has been critical of Middendorp whenever he has elected to use the latter of those formations, and the Ghanaian is expected to start tonight despite earning his manager’s diapproval on Sunday.

“When he is at his best he is one of the best in the league,” Middendorp said of Awal. “We just have to work with him and try and get him back to that before Wednesday.”

Tonight also presents a big opportunity for Dillon Sheppard to show his former club what they are missing out on. The left-footed midfielder joined United at the start of 2013 from Arrows, where he had been sitting in the footballing wilderness for a year. But a string of impressive performances have rejuvinated Sheppard, and another influential performance from him tonight would surely run salt into the wounds of Mngqithi and Arrows.

Tonight’s match kicks off at 7.30 pm and will not be televised.

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter for live updates from the match.

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