Can AmaZulu halt the slide

2008-02-29 00:00

This seems to be a time of season when speculation about the Premier Soccer League is centred more on events off-the-field, and specifically the survival of several under-pressure coaches, than the action on it.

The ignominious race to be the first coach fired at a leading club was won by a street mile by Orlando Pirates’ Bibey Mutombo, who sprinted out of the blocks to be axed in September.

This week Mamelodi Sundowns coach Gordon Igesund, who appears to have been the victim of more than just events of his own doing in failing to reach the heights of last season’s title-winning campaign, was the next big-club coach to go.

Two more coaches feeling the heat are Clive Barker at AmaZulu, and Muhsin Ertugral at Kaizer Chiefs.

Barker has seen his team, who started the season with much promise, drop from mid-table at the Christmas break to two places above the relegation zone after four consecutive defeats.

AmaZulu, who survived via the playoffs last season, will want to turn their form around soon to avoid another fight for survival at the bottom. They will not have a better opportunity than this afternoon at Princess Magogo Stadium, against a Black Leopards team who have not won in eight matches to drop to last place.

AmaZulu will rely again on the form of leading scorer Dumisani Ngwenya up-front, who has scored three times since the restart of the league, including a brace in the last two minutes of normal time in Usuthu’s 3-2 defeat away to Bloemfontein Celtic last week. That brought the ungainly-looking striker’s league tally to nine, to be the league’s third-top scorer.

It is at the back, though, that AmaZulu will need to tighten up if they are to move away from the bottom half of the table, having conceded nine goals in their string of four defeats.

Surely under more pressure than Barker is Chiefs’ Ertugral, and speculation has been that defeat against league leaders Ajax Cape Town at Athlone Stadium this afternoon could be the breaking point in what has become a tense relationship with club chairman Kaizer Motaung. After their ninth-placed finish last season, Chiefs fans would have thought things could not get worse, but this season the country’s biggest club are in 11th place.

Should Ertugral’s demise come, ultimately, against Ajax that would be a cruel irony for the coach who left the Cape Town club at the end of last season bathed in glory after victory in the Absa Cup final, and having guided the young team to fourth place in the PSL.

Chiefs will be without Ghanaian defender Jonathan Quartey (lung infection) and midfielder Thuso Phala (tonsil illness). Derrick Spencer returns from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the team’s last two games.

The match will serve as a fore-runner to Chiefs and Ajax meeting again in the Nedbank Cup in two weeks’ time at Loftus in Pretoria.

Two of the best playmakers in the PSL come face to face when Teko Modise’s Pirates host Papi Zothwane’s Lamontville Golden Arrows at Johannesburg Stadium tonight. Modise, the incumbent Bafana Bafana attacking midfielder, and Zothwane, who has been sidelined from the national team for the past few months, will aim to outwit each other in the middle of the park in a crucial battle between fifth-placed Pirates and sixth-placed Arrows.

Added responsibility falls on the shoulders of Zothwane, given the absence of suspended Kagisho Dikgacoi, the 23-year-old defensive midfielder who made his African Nations Cup debut with an impressive performance for Bafana against Senegalese giant Moustapha Sall in January. Arrows have won three of their last four games, and could be set for a strong finish to the season.

Pirates have threatened to make a charge for the title since enjoying a revival after Owen Da Gama took over as coach from Mutombo, but inconsistency, and slip-up results such as their 2-1 defeat against Santos last weekend have been their stumbling block.

In tomorrow’s only match Moroka Swallows (10th) and Bloemfontein Celtic (eighth) meet in a middle of the table clash at Germiston Stadium.

Today: Ajax Cape Town v Kaizer Chiefs (Athlone Stadium, 3.30 pm — live on SuperSport 4), Free State Stars v Thanda Royal Zulu (Goble Park, 3.30 pm), AmaZulu v Black Leopards (Princess Magogo, 3.30 pm), Orlando Pirates v Lamontville Golden Arrows (Johannesburg Stadium, 8 pm — live on SABC1)

Tomorrow: Moroka Swallows v Bloemfontein Celtic (Germiston Stadium, 3.30 pm — live on SABC1)

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