United to face wounded Downs

2012-04-21 00:00

THE good news for Maritzburg United is that they are now nine points clear of relegation worries with only five PSL fixtures remaining this season. The bad news is that they host a wounded Mamelodi Sundowns at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth today.

Sundowns suffered a major blow to their title ambitions when they lost 2-1 at home to Platinum Stars on Wednesday night. That result has left coach Johan Neeskens fuming and the Brazilians are sure to arrive in Port Elizabeth today desperate for three points that will keep their chances alive of ousting Orlando Pirates at the summit of the league table.

The sides met exactly a week ago in the Nedbank Cup quarter-finals. But with United coach Ernst Middendorp fielding no fewer than six defenders, Sundowns were not tested as they cantered to a comfortable 2-0 win. Middendorp and United bounced back with a victory on Tuesday night when a Cuthbert Malajila goal shocked Kaizer Chiefs in Polokwane.

It was Malajila’s first league goal for the club and the Zimbabwean striker has applauded the coach’s approach to what has been a difficult week of fixtures for United.

“I wouldn’t call it a defensive approach to the game,” Malajila told Weekend Witness yesterday. “But against the big teams if they score in the first half then they can run away with the game. The coach is just looking for us to keep out the goals; it is our strategy.”

Malajila added that the win over Chiefs midweek had instilled a new-found belief in the United camp.

“The confidence is high and the morale in the camp was boosted by the Chiefs win,” he said. “But we have to be even better than we were against Chiefs for this one; Sundowns are fighting for the championship.”

Malajila is likely to be favoured today ahead of Diyo Sibisi as United’s spearhead, and the Zimbabwean says his relationship with his competition for a starting place couldn’t be stronger.

“I consider Diyo to be my brother,” said Malajila. “He has been at the club and in the PSL for a long time and I am always going to him with questions and for advice.”

Michael Morton returns to the starting lineup after serving a suspension and he is likely to slot straight back into central midfield alongside Chillies Madondo and David Booysen. Influential playmaker Kurt Lentjies will miss today’s match after reaching his yellow card limit against Chiefs.

It won’t be easy, but victory today will surely ensure United’s participation in next year’s PSL.

For Malajila, there are bigger fish to fry than simply avoiding relegation.

“We are still aiming for a top eight finish,” he said. “I just want to keep scoring goals; that is my job as a striker.”

Today’s match kicks off at 6 pm and will be televised on SuperSport Four.

• sport@witness.co.za

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