United chase PSL dream

2008-04-04 00:00

AFTER grinding their way through the treadmill that is the National First Division Coastal Stream, Maritzburg United are in sight of reaching the final to compete for promotion to the Premier Soccer League.

United, on 41 points, need a victory over leaders Bay United at Harry Gwala Stadium this afternoon (3 pm), then another against Durban Stars in Pietermaritzburg on April 12 to qualify for the NFD final.

The Pietermartzburg team could also draw today and still stand a chance of reaching the final, because there would still be just a point in it between themselves and Bay, and anything could happen in the PE side’s last match against third-placed Nathi Lions in Durban.

But to United, that one point will seem like the Berlin Wall, and far better to have matters within the team’s own hands.

The winners of the Coastal Stream play the Inland winners in the NFD final for one automatic promotion place to the PSL. Bay and Maritzburg have both already qualified for the play-offs, where the two streams’ runners-up, NFD final losers and second-last PSL team compete for one more promotion position.

United have ground out single-goal victories in their last four games, a recovery period from a four-match winless slump after the Christmas break that saw the team blow a six-point lead. Bay, on the other hand, have been winning by three or even four-goal margins, such as in a 4-0 defeat of Ikapa Sporting in their previous fixture in PE.

United’s team management have pointed to the PE team having had more matches at home, while the Team of Choice have played mostly away. Coach Ian Palmer bemoaned the fact that Ikapa played a full-strength team in their 1-0 defeat against Maritzburg, but fielded a weakened combination against Bay.

It should also be taken into account that in a First Division, whose standard has been diluted by the new Coastal and Inland format, in which it is not possible for clubs to simply sustain themselves and the ultimate goal for every team is to win promotion at any cost, attractive football must by necessity take a back seat.

United have, more than any team than perhaps Bay and FC AK in the Inland Stream, striven to play cultured football against the odds this season.

And it may take something a little more sophisticated than putting Bay to the grind today to break down a team that has clearly been well organised by coach Vladislav Heric. The PE side were 2-0 winners over United in Pietermaritzburg in January, at the start of United’s temporary loss of form.

Heric has done well at Bay to blend seasoned professionals such as Duran Francis (ex-Santos), Peter Kirsten, Gareth Ncaca (both ex-Hellenic) and former African Wanderers goalkeeper Arthur Bartman with young local talent. Halfway through the season, the coach reunited with a player he came to know in a short spell at Maritzburg last season, tricky winger Luntu Mazana, who has been on loan from Orlando Pirates.

The dangerman for Bay is the Coastal Stream’s top scorer — with 11 goals — ex-Manning Rangers striker Linos Chalwe of Zambia.

However, the PE team received a setback in their thrashing of Ikapa, with two key players — Johannes Segalo and ex-Mamelodi Sundowns and U20 international central defender Jonas Mavimbela — sent off, and both are suspended.

United have a full squad available except for suspended striker Thando Ngwabeni. Overall, the PMB line-up has greater experience, and their ex-PSL players are less weathered.

United have a number of potential match-winners, and will hope for a few of them to fire today. Among these are strikers Collen Zimba and Fadlu Davids, midfielders John Arwuah, Omar Hendricks, Justice Sithole and Lynch Pule, right-back Peter Petersen and goalkeeper Dominic Sithole. Defenders Sylla Mbemba, David Mkhandawire, and Buti Sithole have been solid, and need to be at their best.

After coming this far, the finish line is in sight for Maritzburg United. All they have to do is not trip.

•Entrance is free, except for the grand stand, which is R20.

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