‘It’s up to the players now’

2012-09-14 00:00

THE players will have to take responsibility if Maritzburg United are to record their first ever PSL victory over Free State Stars at Harry Gwala stadium tonight.

This was the stance of coach Ernst Middendorp ahead of a match that will see the winner, should there be one, move to the top of the log with the rest of the weekend’s fixtures still to be played.

The new-look United have been impressive so far this season. With a smaller squad, Middendorp appears to have crafted a group of versatile players with depth in every position. With wins over AmaZulu and Mamelodi Sundowns already under the belt, however, the German coach refuses to get carried away.

“In a lot of departments we can still be better and we need to improve,” he told The Witness from the side’s Carter High School training complex. “I am still not satisfied.”

With his continued emphasis on his side keeping their shape while moving the ball around the park at speed, Middendorp acknowledged that once the match kicked off, it would be up to the players to implement what they have been working on at training.

“They need to show the right attitude and they need to be prepared,” the coach said. “It is up to them to stand up and be counted and get the three points.”

History suggests that United will find the going tough. In five home matches since 2005, United have lost to Stars twice while drawing on three occasions. But there is a sense that there is something different this time around, and it is largely due to the fact that Middendorp did some good business in the transfer market during pre-season.

The arrivals of Delron Buckley, Ruben Cloete and Mario Booysen have brought maturity and professionalism into the squad, while the signings of Mthokozisi Yende, Orlando Smeekes and Terrance Mandaza appear to have given Middendorp an element of attacking flair. With Ghanaian Mohamed Awal getting better with every game at centre back and the wise head of Shu-Aib Walters in the United goal, United’s defence have appeared comfortable for most of the 270 minutes of football they have played so far this season.

Middendorp attributes this season’s early success to the fact that this is a trimmed-down squad.

“With fewer players we are able to give everybody more attention in their development,” he said. “Not only from me, but from all the departments.”

With everybody fit and available for selection, it is hard to see Middendorp making any changes to the side that upset Sundowns 2-1 on September 2.

But the coach must decide if he will employ the same three-pronged central midfield that he did that day, when 22-year-old Ryan de Jongh impressed alongside Buckley and the now familiar Michael Morton.

With Buckley scoring both goals against Sundowns, Middendorp is likely to resist the urge to play him out wide again. That would leave Yende, Mandaza and Smeekes fighting it out for the two wings, while Cuthbert Malajila is certain to start up front.

The defence is also unlikely to be tinkered with. Peter Petersen has rediscovered his form at right back and Cloete has been exceptionally impressive on the opposite side of the defence.

Stars go into the match without any injuries or suspensions either.

The match kicks off at 8 pm and will not be televised.

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