United need to shape up

2009-10-28 00:00

AS each match has passed in their last three games it has become increasingly difficult to see Maritzburg United pull out of their current slump with any sort of haste.

When does a mini-slump become a slump? Probably about when you have lost your last two games quite badly, then are unable to beat the bottom-placed team at home, as was the case in Maritzburg’s 1-1 draw against Jomo Cosmos last Wednesday night.

Unless things start improving soon, preferably in their next two games against 11th-placed Mpumalanga Black Aces at Woodburn Stadium tonight and then at home again to 13th-placed Free State Stars on Saturday, then there will be reason for some concern for United.

Their three games against the two newly promoted teams, Cosmos and Aces, and struggling Free State Stars were supposed to be an opportunity for United to compose themselves, reconcile and rediscover their form. They have two matches left to do that.

But if United don’t pick up six points at home in their next two games against teams in the bottom half of the table, then the PMB team might have to start considering themselves bottom-half candidates, because the games will just start getting tougher.

The current season has followed a distressingly familiar pattern. United started like a house, perhaps not quite on fire, but certainly smouldering, and with their quick, attacking football looked like top eight candidates.

But the flame never took and United have faded with a 5-1 thrashing at home to Mamelodi Sundowns, 2-0 defeat away to Moroka Swallows and then a draw against Cosmos.

Last season United went four games unbeaten at the start of the season before going into a slump, then pulling out just in time, in the end, to survive relatively comfortably.

If the PMB team allow themselves to get into that sort of rut again, then they might not be so fortunate this time around.

Somehow, somewhere this season, Maritzburg’s emphasis seems to have shifted from stamping their authority with attacking football to trying to stop the opposition from playing.

Umlazi-based side Lamontville Golden Arrows, under dynamic coach Manqoba Mngqithi, gave every team in the PSL a lesson in the rewards that can be reaped by allowing players to express themselves, in their 6-0 thrashing of Ajax Cape Town in Saturday’s MTN8 final.

Admittedly United coach Gordon Igesund has comparably quite meagre resources to work with as United are one of the few teams in the PSL who do not have a sponsor. Still, one at least expects to see an improvement from season to season rather than a status quo.

United will be up against an Aces team who should not be any pushovers under experienced coach Sammy Troughton. He has a few useful players, none more so than Zambian winger Clifford Mulenga, the scorer in the team’s shock 1-0 away win over high-riding Wits University last week.

A big positive for United last Wednesday was the form of their most consistent player this season, left-back Elias Ngwepe. If every player were to buzz in the manner in which the diminutive defender did against Cosmos, then United would not be having any problems with their form.

United fans are a pretty tolerant lot. They’ve put up with a lot of disappointments, including being relegated and fighting relegation twice, and have kept coming back for more.

But the pattern of bringing in a lot of new faces each season who take time to adjust to each other, and to realise how important United are to Pietermaritzburg, is getting tired.

United need to shape up, and shape up fast, because in the toughest PSL campaign ever in the run-in to the 2010 World Cup there will be no room for stragglers.

Kick-off: 7.30 pm.

More PSL fixtures and standings, page 23.

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