United’s tough year

2013-12-31 00:00

AFTER the first half of the season, Maritzburg United lie third from bottom, just three points above fellow KwaZulu-Natal strugglers Golden Arrows. They played some decent football towards the end of the year, but were not able to pick up results as they went on a run of five losses in a row before upsetting the applecart and drawing 2-2 against Mamelodi Sundowns in a game they were expected to lose. Here's a look at some of the club’s best and worst performers in the first half of the season, the break-out stars, and those waiting in the wings to claim their chance.

Top performers:

Thokozani Sekotlong (7/10)

The midfielder/striker has shown glimpses this season that he will become a top performer for Maritzburg United. With his well placed lob over Moeneeb Josephs in the 3-1 loss to Wits in their last home game for the year, Sekotlong became the club’s top goal­scorer this season with three. And, as The Team of Choice have struggled for goals, he has always looked dangerous in attack. For United to improve in the second half of the season, Clinton Larsen will have to find a player that can complement the former University of Pretoria star in attack. He was unlucky not to be called up to the Bafana squad for the up coming Chan tournament.

Mario Booysen (6/10)

Mario Booysen is not just a rock in defence. Due to his height, the former SuperSport United and Ajax Cape Town man is a threat in set-pieces, and has managed to find the back of the net on two occasions this season. Along with Mohammed Awal, the two were a solid unit last season and their form saw the club perform well in the league. He has been solid again this season, but for United to finally break into the top eight, he — and Awal — will have to replicate the form from last campaign. Booysen remains a crucial cog to United’s quest for that elusive top eight league finish.

Shu-Aib Walters (7/10)

The 32-year-old former Bafana Bafana World Cup squad member is an indispensable member of the Maritzburg United first team. At times this season, he has often been let down by his defence, but he has made the odd mistake — conceding a late equaliser against Moroka Swallows was one of them. He has kept his team in the game on more than one occasion. A game that stands out for Walters is the 2-2 draw against title-chasing Sundowns two weeks ago. With United leading 2-1, he kept out a goal-bound header by Dutchman Alje Schut as United tried to hang on.

Michael Morton (6/10)

Maritzburg United’s captain fantastic has been an inspirational figure at times in midfield, leading his troops with displays that are reminiscent of a young Roy Keane. The home loss to Morton’s former club Orlando Pirates, where he was awarded the man-of-the-match award, was a game that stood out for the hard-tackling midfield dynamo who never seems to tire. His energy in the heart of midfield was sorely missed in the dying minutes of the Sundowns game with United leading 2-1 and searching for a first Premier League victory since October. Captain Maritzburg will be key as they try to move up the table.

Break-out stars:

Frank Sarfo-Gyamfi (5/10)

United coach Clinton Larsen said big things were expected of the 19-year-old Ghanaian winger. Having not played much last season under former supremo Ernst Middendorp largely due to injury, Larsen gave the teenager a number of games this season, and he has shown glimpses of his potential. He has a lot to learn but he can still get the job done on the right wing. He will want to use the second half of the season to prove that he can cut it at the top against the very best.

Bandile Shandu (5/10)

The 18-year-old former Maritzburg College pupil made his debut for the club last season while still only in Grade 11. He made the second start of his career in the 2-2 draw with Sundowns — his first was also against the Brazilians — and gave a good account of himself. After finishing matric exams earlier this month, Shandu started training full time with the club. He will hope for more opportunities in the second half of the season. With more games, he is bound to get better.

Ayanda Nkosi (6/10)

The University of Johannesburg economics student has been a revelation so far. Nkosi was plucked from obscurity by Ernst Middendorp while playing Varsity football under the tutelage of former Kaizer Chiefs, VfB Stuttgart and Bafana Bafana fullback Bradley Carnell. The 21-year-old striker has grabbed his opportunity of playing in the big league with both hands. He netted his first goal three minutes into his first game as a professional footballer. His second goal came with his first touch after coming on as a substitute in the KZN derby against Golden Arrows.

Disappointment:

Mohammed Yakubu (2/10)

The striker was brought in from Ashanti Gold in Ghana to be the replacement for Cuthbert Malajila, who was snatched by big spending Mamelodi Sundowns. But, so far this campaign, he has found the back of the net just once (from a set-piece). Yakubu, who finished as Ghanaian Premier League second top goalscorer for two seasons on the trot — 11 goals in 2012/13 and 16 in 2011/11 — has not found the going easy in the PSL, and may need some time to adjust. He’ll have to up his game in the second half of the season.

Waiting in the wings:

Ryan Moon

United have been struggling for goals this season with Mohammed Yakubu, the man brought in to replace the prolific Cuthbert Malajila finding the back of the net just once while Terrance Mandaza is still to break his duck. Could 17-year-old Maritzburg College striker, who signed a professional contract with the club earlier in the season, be the answer to the lack of goals from the front men? Moon, the brother of Bafana Bafana and Sundowns fullback Bryce Moon, was prolific during the school season, and coach Clinton Larsen and his staff have been working to put some meat on his slight frame to prepare him for the rigours of professional football.

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