Three points the only option

2013-04-26 00:00

THE business end of the PSL season has arrived, and with four rounds of fixtures remaining, Maritzburg United go into tonight’s clash against Moroka Swallows knowing that three points will go a long way towards securing a top eight finish for the first time in the club’s history.

The match is the third and final home game that United have had moved to Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium this season.

United are in sixth place on the log, but can be leapfrogged by Swallows, down in 10th, with a defeat of three goals or more tonight.

That is how tight things are in mid-table, and one of the biggest challenges facing coach Ernst Middendorp and his squad in the buildup to tonight’s match has been getting everybody back up to peak fitness.

United were in action in Tuesday night’s goalless draw against SuperSport in a catch-up fixture, while Swallows have had an extra three days to recover after they lost to Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday.

“There is now doubt that we have a small handicap, we must make that very clear,” Middendorp said of his side’s battle against fixture congestion this week.

“We have been spending a lot of time on regeneration in the last couple of days. There have been a couple of niggles, but we have tried to give the players a lot of rest and fortunately we have no real injuries.”

The coach confirmed that Ghanaian centre-back Mohamed Awal, crucial to United’s defensive strength, has still not recovered completely from his hamstring strain, despite playing all 90 minutes against SuperSport. But winger Heinrich Isaacks, who missed the SuperSport clash with ligament damage, is available for today and will be in the matchday 18.

With Rheece Evans also available after completing a suspension, Middendorp will be tempted to give veteran Peter Petersen a rest at right back.

Dillon Sheppard and Delron Buckley are among the older and more experienced players in the squad, but Middendorp said he had no concerns about the physical state of his two left-footed stars.

“These guys know their bodies and they know to always have a little left in reserve,” he said.

“We need these players and it is their experience that can make this possible.”

United are undefeated in five league matches dating back to their 2-0 win over Chippa United at Harry Gwala on March 31.

But their last four matches since then have all been draws. Swallows, on the other hand, have won two, lost two and drawn one in their last five.

“We know that it is very tight.

“We should have held on to beat Golden Arrows [2-2], but then we picked up points away to Bloemfontein Celtic and SuperSport.

“It is very important that we keep gathering points.”

While United would love nothing more than a win tonight, they are all too aware of the attacking threats that Swallows impose and Middendorp says they must be equally concerned with conceding goals as they are with scoring.

“We must always have an eye on what is happening at both ends of the pitch,” said the coach. “Of course we want the three points. We will try to attack as best we can, but also try to defend as best we can.

“You can’t just move forward and expect God to take care of the rest.”

United are currently on 35 points and Middendorp is targeting “well over 40” points to secure top eight status. With fixtures away to title challengers Platinum Stars and Orlando Pirates remaining, as well as a home clash against relegation-threatened Ajax Cape Town, a win tonight seems like a necessity for the Team of Choice.

The match kicks off at 8 pm and will be televised on SuperSport Four.

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