Quiet optimism growing at United

2007-12-05 00:00

MARITZBURG United shy away from a favourites tag in the National First Division Coastal Stream like it is the plague, and that is probably understandable.

The team already have the pressure of being the only unbeaten side left in the National First Division (NFD) after their 3-1 defeat of Western Province United in Cape Town on Saturday, and any sort of “top contender” label would just add to that.

But a quiet, and still very cautious, optimism is growing at United that they just might be able to make it. The Team of Choice are three points clear at the top of the stream after five wins and three draws, and on course to reach the Christmas break unbeaten.

United have three matches to play before the break, against last-placed Hanover Park at Harry Gwala Stadium on Friday, away against Durban United and then at home again to dangerous Cape outfit Ikapa Sporting.

“I definitely wouldn’t classify ourselves as the favourites,” United coach Ian Palmer said yesterday. “Mainly because the lead is still only three points, and that can change in just one match. And of course there is still a very long way to go.

“We know this is not a sprint. If anything it is a Comrades Marathon, and we are still very far from even reaching Polly Shortts yet. Once we’ve gotten over that hill then I might call us the favourites.”

For Palmer, the main task is to keep United sharp and at their best, and to not allow complacency to creep in so that the team stays ahead of the pack.

He says the support structures offered by the club’s solid management make this job a great deal easier.

“It’s a blessing having the support of a chairman in Farouk Kadodia, who makes sure that you get everything that you need,” the coach added.

“And then also to have a group of players as committed as we have.

“So it’s certainly not a one-man show that is about the coach. What the support from management gives is that you have a solid structure, which very few of these players had where they came from, and that provides the motivation.”

Striker Fadlu Davids, who notched up his third and fourth goals of the season with a brace against WP, said the down-to-earth nature of the hard but fair technical staff of Palmer, assistant Ashwin Sutton and goalkeeper-coach Pernell McKop, has helped create an excellent spirit.

“We have achieved one of our goals of going unbeaten for our first seven games. Actually we wanted to win all seven but football is not like that. But we have done well and the self-belief is growing,” Davids said.

“The coaching staff are a bunch of good guys off the field. Ian is like a father figure for the players. He is approachable and someone you can talk to. So we work really hard on the field and then we all get along well off it.

“It’s a much better spirit than last season where everyone was pulling in a different direction, and now the guys are all focused on a common goal.”

The goal in question: to win the Coastal Stream and go into the final against the Inland winners to play for the automatic promotion spot to the Premier Soccer League.

For United, it is an ambitious dream that still seems a long way off, but it is becoming increasingly realistic with each game.

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