United keen to improve their away form on trip to windy Santos

2008-11-20 00:00

THEY don’t call Athlone Stadium the wind tunnel for nothing.

The venue, where Santos host Maritzburg United in a PSL match tonight, is being renovated for the World Cup, with new stands on either side, which will relieve much of the problem. But for now it still has two main stands that run the length of the field, which channel even a gentle Cape draught and make for the “difficult conditions” so often mentioned about playing in the Mother City.

Cape teams are well aware of this, and use the wind, which they play in week in and week out, to their advantage. Then there are the often wet and slippery conditions, and sometimes cold too — the Cape Flats can be blustery and chilly even at this time of year.

United have traditionally not travelled well to Santos, including a 3-0 defeat at the beginning of the 2005/06 season. But they know they need an improved performance this time round.

After a bright start, new-look and newly-promoted United have lost their way somewhat. A four-match run of defeats was ended with their 2-2 home draw against Platinum Stars on Sunday, and now the PMB team will hope to turn around their porous away form.

United have conceded nine goals in their last two away games — a 5-0 thrashing to champions Supersport United and a 4-1 loss to Wits University; and 11 in three if you include the 2-0 Telkom Knockout loss to Free State Stars. At home, their slump has been far less dramatic with a 1-0 defeat to Lamontville Golden Arrows and their draw against Stars.

Now United must steady the ship against a Santos team as eager to notch up three points at home after a disappointing start.

Under the sometimes controversial David Bright, Santos have retained the five-defender system that confounded many teams last season, soaking up pressure and bypassing the midfield by knocking the ball up to cantering striker Eleazar Rodgers and skilful Tyren Arendse.

Against this, United’s central defence, their Achilles heel in their losing streak, will need be at their tightest and maintain concentration.

With Gary Goldstone out for two weeks, coach Gordon Igesund has a choice between Sylla Mbemba, new signing Siphiwe Mkhonza and Oscar Mathebula, who made an impressive debut as a substitute against Stars, to partner Bageta Dikilu at the back.

Striker Fadlu Davids will return from injury only if he is comfortable with a face mask that will protect his recovering broken nose.

Brice Aka and John Arwuah are suspended, and Sam Ndlovu and Lynch Pule are the likely partnership in central midfield.

Santos, a place behind United in 13th, might have struggled on the road this season, with three defeats out of four and eight goals conceded, but are sure to still be a force in their own, often breezy, back yard.

Tonight: Santos vs Maritzburg United (Athlone Stadium, 8 pm – live on SSt 4)

Tomorrow: Free State Stars vs Mamelodi Sundowns (Charles Mopeli Stadium, 3 pm), Lamontville Golden Arrows vs Bloemfontein Celtic (King Zwelithini Stadium, 3.30 pm), Wits University vs Kaizer Chiefs (Bidvest Stadium, 8 pm), Supersport United vs AmaZulu (Super Stadium, 8 pm), Orlando Pirates vs Thanda Royal Zulu (Orlando Stadium, 8 pm)

Sunday: Bay United vs Ajax Cape Town (Absa Stadium, 3.30 pm), Moroka Swallows vs Platinum Stars (Orlando Stadium, 3.30 pm).

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