United face Bucs as tough schedule continues

2009-01-13 00:00

MARITZBURG United began their restart to the Premier Soccer League with a defeat and it doesn’t get any easier for the Pietermaritzburg team, who tonight take on Orlando Pirates at Johannesburg Stadium.

After returning from the break with a somewhat unfortunate 2-1 away loss against Moroka Swallows, United now face the Birds’ even more illustrious Soweto neighbours. Pirates will be looking to bounce back from their own defeat on their return to action,

1-0 against SuperSport United at Joburg Stadium on Saturday.

The potentially devastating Buccaneers have at times produced some of the best football seen this season, with even United coach Gordon Igesund professing himself a fan of Dutch coach Ruud Krol’s approach at Pirates. Bucs this week lost the services of Krol’s assistant — Ian Palmer, United’s head coach in their promotion-winning campaign last season — who has resigned.

Bucs have been bolstered by the return of two key players. Right-wing Dikgang Mabalane — who since a six-month stint helping save United from relegation in 2005/06 has been on the fringes of Bafana Bafana selection with Jomo Cosmos, and is now in some of the best form of his career at Pirates — returns from suspension. The Buccaneers also have galloping left-back Innocent Mdledle back from long-term injury.

For United the match is a continuation of their hellish current programme, with their next fixture against league leaders Ajax Cape Town at Woodburn Stadium on Saturday, followed by SuperSport United at home and Kaizer Chiefs away next week.

Apart from the red card to Brice Aka, which will see United’s key striker suspended for two games, there were positives to come out of the defeat to Birds.

Tony Tsabedze’s continued good form on the left wing was complemented by the addition of skilful new signing Fanyana Dhladhla on the right. Young goalkeeper Tashreeq Goldman responded well to being thrown in at the deep end for a gutsy debut.

Now United must start turning positives into points. Realistically, one cannot expect the team to canter through their tough programme in their next four games. But they do need to start picking up points somewhere. Most “smaller” teams in the PSL this season have managed unlikely wins over the big clubs, and United are capable of the same.

Or, as one Pietermaritzburg letter writer put it so succinctly elsewhere on these sports pages — United’s players need a “firecracker up their backsides”, and pretty soon too, if they are to avoid fighting a gritty relegation battle come the end of the season.

Also tonight Mamelodi Sundowns coach Henri Michel must decide whether to field Lerato Chabangu, who has signed a pre-contract to join SuperSport, against Bloemfontein Celtic at the Super Stadium.

Tonight: (all 7.30 pm) Orlando Pirates v Maritzburg United (Johannesburg Stadium – SSpt 4), Mamelodi Sundowns v Bloemfontein Celtic (Super Stadium – SSpt 3), Platinum Stars v AmaZulu Olen Park – SABC1)

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