Lentjies can lift United’s game

2011-02-05 00:00

MARITZBURG United’s elusive quest to turn performance into points continues in tonight’s Premier Soccer League game against Bloemfontein Celtic at Harry Gwala Stadium.

With a full squad available and in a night setting in front of their home supporters, where United have displayed their best football this season, Maritzburg will want to capitalise on the favourable conditions with what would be a morale-boosting win.

The PMB team’s inability to turn pressure on the opposition net into goals — and consequently wins and maximum points — was evident again in their 1-1 draw against AmaZulu at Harry Gwala in midweek.

While the result was disappointing, Maritzburg will have been satisfied that they managed to fight back from an opportunistic goal down and earn a share of the spoils.

The AmaZulu game was the start of a six-match run against teams situated in the mid-to-lower region of the table, a period where 13th-placed United will be hoping to earn points and escape the grip of the bottom four. For that reason it seemed crucial for the home team not to lose on Wednesday night.

Now United will look to go one better against a Celtic side that has hovered around fifth or sixth under Clinton Larsen in the former Manning Rangers midfielder’s maiden season as a PSL coach.

Larsen, an assistant to Gordon Igesund at Maritzburg two seasons ago, is aiming to transfer to coaching the knowledge gained as an intelligent right midfielder in the Rangers team that shocked the country by winning the inaugural PSL title in 1996/97.

While at first met with some suspicion by the Celtic fans, the coach has begun to win over the fanatical Phunya Sele Sele supporters with the technical football displayed by his team, and consequent results that have followed.

United will know they have it all to do earning three points against an impressive combination tonight. The Team of Choice, though, have shown themselves capable of matching any side on their home ground when they click.

A draw against AmaZulu in a characteristically hard-fought KZN derby was not the worst start United could have made to their current six-match programme. Now they will be aiming for consistency with a result against Celtic.

“There is tremendous pressure to do well against Celtic this weekend,” United goalkeeper Shu-aib Walters said. “It will be a difficult game, especially with their team doing so well.

“We have to keep an eye on whoever will be playing on the day, because they have so many good players and their coach is always spoiled for choice.”

Walters feels that goals must come at some stage for United if they stick to coach Ernst Middendorp’s high-tempo attacking approach.

“In our previous matches, there are so many games that we lost or drew that we should have won, but after our draw against AmaZulu we are optimistic that we can do well.”

United welcome full-back David Booysen and, crucially, midfielder Kurt Lentjies, back from suspension.

The creativity of the enterprising Lentjies — whose passing and vision have become an integral part of the United midfield as he has progressively found form this season — was visibly missed against AmaZulu.

Maritzburg have played Celtic twice already this season, both times away, losing 2-0 in the league but winning 2-1 in the opening round of the Telkom Knockout.

The Free State side have good attacking players in Moses Spandeel, Prince Hlela, Thokozani Mshengu, Clifford Mulenga and tall striker Nathan Paulse who can cause problems for any defence.

United’s response comes in the form of a midfield and attack of Lentjies, Musa Nyatama, Felix Obada, Gert Schalkwyk, Rudolf Bester and Diyo Sibisi that on its day can be unstoppable.

It all depends which Maritzburg shows up tonight.

ON TV

Kickoff: 8.15 pm – live on SuperSport 4

PSL preview, fixtures and standing: page 47

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