Maritzburg United finish 11th, but Middendorp pleased with progress

2010-03-08 00:00

MARITZBURG United might only have finished 11th as their Premier Soccer League season came to an end with a 1-0 defeat to Santos at Harry Gwala Stadium on Saturday, but coach Ernst Middendorp is satisfied with the progress made by the team in the second half of their campaign.

The mere fact that United did not fight relegation, and had their best finish in four PSL seasons (their previous best was last season’s 12th) are signs that United are stabilising as a club in the PSL.

Santos finished in an impressive fourth, and on Saturday you could see why. The Capetonians, who beat United 4-0 in the first round in Cape Town, play the game tough in away matches, barely bothering with attack and waiting for their opposition to make mistakes.

Despite this, United did create chances, but found goalkeeper Lee Langeveldt up to the task when these were on target. Notable saves were made in the first half, with what would have been a classic goal after Felix Obada ran on to Rudolf Bester’s chip, athletically chested, turned and shot; and in the second half with a point-blank stop from Fadlu Davids.

But Santos’s approach worked for them when they caught United on the counter.

Erwin Isaacs teased Mor Diouf on the left before squaring to Eleazor Rodgers, whose shot was parried by Shu-aib Walters and fell to ex-United left-wing Graham King to bury a 90th-minute winner.

Middendorp, who replaced Gordon Igesund midway through the season, said he was not unhappy with the defeat and is overall pleased with the progress and potential shown by United.

The PMB team finished behind Wits University, who beat Platinum Stars 2-0 at Milpark.

“Santos had two or three chances and we had five or six,” Middendorp said.

“I’m not unhappy with the progress that has been made by Maritzburg United.

“Santos finished in fourth ahead of Orlando Pirates. To dominate this side with good ball possession, good closing of the spaces, shows there has been a lot of development.”

Middendorp admitted that playing defence-minded teams has been a stumbling block for United.

“I know the next step still has to be made. It’s easier if teams come to our ground and move forward, because then we can exploit the spaces,” the coach said.

“If you look at our results against teams who play defensively, even at their home ground, it’s a 1-0 loss to Black Aces [away], 0-0 against Cosmos [away], a 1-0 loss to Santos [home], drawing 0-0 against Free State, who played with a sweeper even at home.

“It’s a little about being a bit more clever, and for the future this is what we can sit down and assess.”

Some key results stood in United’s way of a top eight finish. These were a 1-1 draw against Moroka Swallows at Woodburn in December that would have left the PMB team in ninth at the Christmas break, a 1-0 away defeat to Mpumalanga Black Aces and a 0-0 draw away to 10-man Free State Stars in Maritzburg’s second-last game.

The team had some excellent results under Middendorp, though, including away victories over AmaZulu and Bloemfontein Celtic, and exciting wins at home against Lamontville Golden Arrrows and Pirates.

Middendorp said: “I think the progress has been fantastic in the three key departments of ball possession, compactness and creating opportunities.

“In the last four months we had a goal difference of +1 compared to -11 before, and gained 19 points from 15 games compared to 16 points in the first half.

“If you look at the Swallows game, where we conceded in the final minutes, Free State where we had two late chances, but could not beat 10 men, and Santos where we deserved at least 0-0 — take those five or six points and we could have finished ninth, and with a bit of luck eighth.

“Now we begin the cup competitions and we will use these 13 days to prepare very well for the game against AmaZulu.”

United play AmaZulu in the Telkom Knockout first round in Durban on March 20.

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