‘United will only get stronger’

2008-08-29 00:00

After a stagnant period spent warming the bench at Mamelodi Sundowns, Elias Ngwepe could not have asked for a better start to his career as Maritzburg United’s new left-back.

Ngwepe was man of the match in United’s impressive opening 1-1 draw against Ajax Cape Town at Athlone Stadium on Wednesday night, in the promoted team’s first game back in the Premier Soccer League. He did an excellent job in the first half marking Ajax dangerman Sameegh Doutie, who was substituted in the 57th minute. Ngwepe also played a hand in United’s goal, scored by new Ivorian striker Brice Aka.

“It was nice to get a good performance in my first game, especially since I didn’t really get a pre-season. I was put on transfer at Sundowns and wasn’t able to train with them.

“Then I only joined Maritzburg four days before the Ajax game. But I think it was only the Almighty God who gave me strength to have that performance,” Ngwepe said from Johannesburg yesterday.

Ngwepe was not allowed to return to Gauteng to fetch his personal belongings by United coach Gordon Igesund ahead of the Ajax game and, along with a few other players, had to walk around in the same set of clothes for a few days.

Not surprisingly for a team with 21 new players in its squad, United’s encouraging performance against Ajax was not unflawed. At times displaying the quick-passing that is Igesund’s teams’ hallmark, United also had a few nervous moments at the back. This can also be put down to lack of match practice due to the side’s late start to the pre-season.

“We have got the most qualified coach in the country, who is so experienced. We have just started and when we have played some games together the team will gel,” Ngwepe said.

“The team is still new and we are only beginning to build, but we have some experienced players like Bageta Dikilu and Gary Goldstone. I think we have a very good squad with players like Brice Aka, Tico-Tico Bucuane and Fadlu Davids. We just have to work hard and everything else will follow.

“A draw against Ajax is not easy. You have windy conditions, the pitch is not good, it’s cold and many teams don’t even get a point. So we did well and we will only get stronger.”

After Ajax took the lead through Mabhuti Khenyeza’s 67th-minute strike, United showed guts to fight back and equalise within three minutes. Aka’s goal, slotting the rebound after Fadlu Davids’s powerful shot was saved, came from a neat bit of skill and inter-play by Ngwepe and lively substitute Junior Khanye down the left.

Khanye, almost a junior version of former Kaizer Chiefs bad boy Jabu Mahlangu, has impressed Igesund with his will to reform his errant ways and rebuild his career. Ngwepe says: “Junior told me, ‘I want to work’. He says that the things he did in the past were not OK, and he has got a wife and child now, and wants to change.

“He’s a big man now and he understands some of the things he did in the past were not good, and really wants to be OK now. He’s a good boy.”

Ngwepe, who arrived on the scene as a skilful, exciting left-sided player at Bloemfontein Celtic, is aiming to rebuild his career in Pietermaritzburg.

“Since going to Sundowns two years ago, I never played the type of football I played at Bloemfontein Celtic. People were asking me why and the reason was that I never got a clear, fair chance.

“The only time I did was when Gordon was there, and I was beginning to get somewhere. But then they changed the coach and I was out of the picture again. At Celtic, I was playing 30 games a season and to sit on the bench was very frustrating.

“But you have to be strong and take it like a man. Now Gordon has got me to come to Maritzburg and get my career going again. He spoke to [Sundowns] chairman Patrice Motsepe, and to Mr Kadodia, and I am very happy to be a Maritzburg player.”

United’s next game is against Kaizer Chiefs at King’s Park on September 14. Could an upset victory be on the cards?

“We have to take it a game at a time,” Ngwepe said. “Chiefs are a very big team — they have got history and they have got good players. But if we concentrate and work hard, anything is possible.”

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