Tight defence crucial for United

2010-11-05 00:00

MARITZBURG United coach Ernst Middendorp could not attend yesterday’s media open day at the team’s Ohrtmann Road training grounds ahead of Sunday’s Telkom Knockout quarter-final against Mamelodi Sundowns at Harry Gwala Stadium.

But he had a good pretty excuse … the coach was getting married in Johannesburg.

There’ll be no time for a honeymoon just now, though, with the football season in full swing. But Middendorp and his new wife, Bronwyn, would probably take a victory against Sundowns as a more than welcome wedding gift.

In the coach’s absence, assistant Salie Adams said it will be crucial for United to keep a tight defence early on against Sundowns.

“We need to make sure that we don’t concede an early goal. The longer the game goes goalless, I think the better it’ll be for us because our fitness levels are very good. And the players will grow more confident,” Adams said.

For United the question is whether to play a frustrating game on Sunday, or attack on their home ground and get Sundowns rattled. Adams did not want to give too much away, but hinted United would attack.

“You know what — I don’t think we should play defensively,” he said. “We’ve got very good attacking players.

“We obviously still have it in our minds of who should replace Musa [Nyatama] and Kurt [Lentjies]. We’re still playing around with who to use going forward.

“We do need to be realistic and say Sundowns is a very good team. We need to be cautious, first of all, and also make sure that we take the game to them.”

Lentjies will continue to be rested to fully rehabilitate a hamstring injury, while Nyatama is prevented in his loan contract from Sundowns from playing against the team that owns him.

Goalkeeper Shu-aib Walters has probably been one of the most relieved United players to see a defence that conceded eight goals in its first four games tighten up significantly. The goalkeeper has allowed just one goal past him in his last three matches — in United’s 2-1 Telkom first round win away to Bloemfontein Celtic.

That result was part of a three-match unbeaten mini-revival for United after a shaky start to the season.

“We’ve brought in [defender] Fabian McCarthy, and it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders knowing there’s some experience in front of me,” Walters said, adding that the new defensive midfield partnership of John Arwuah and Bevan Fransch has also brought stability to United.

“We looked at the first four games and saw there were a few things that could be changed.

“The coach did his research and gave John and Bevan a chance, and it worked out for us. And I think we’re not going to change a winning formula.”

United have lost every one of their nine league and cup games against Sundowns, but Walters said a Team of Choice whose confidence has been on the rise stand some chance of turning the tables on Sunday.

“We’re hoping Sundowns come here overconfident and thinking they’ve got their semi-final in the bag. All the media are saying it’s a good draw for Sundowns, and that can play a role.

“A lot of the players also know these games are where the big teams snap up the players, which is a motivation. And it would mean a lot more to our players to win the game than it would to Sundowns,” the goalkeeper said.

• Tickets (R40 adults, R20 scholars) are available at SuperSave in Retief Street, the club offices in Victoria Road and Computicket.

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