Chippa in drop zone fight of their lives

2013-03-27 00:00

MARITZBURG United are historically a tough force to be reckoned with for any opposition when they play at Harry Gwala stadium, and they will be looking to their home fans to help in their quest to overcome a desperate Chippa United in Sunday’s PSL battle at “The Graveyard”.

Chippa are bottom of the log and in the relegation fight of their lives as they look to avoid slipping back down to the National First Division after a single season in the top flight. The Cape side are two points behind Ajax in 15th, but have played a game less than their Western Cape neighbours.

But United are fighting their own battle, and as coach Ernst Middendorp said earlier in the week, it might as well be a relegation battle.

For the Team of Choice, to finish anywhere outside the top eight this season would be considered a failure. After the first half of the season that saw United perform above expectations to take their place in the top five, a recent dip in form has seen them drop to seventh on the log and their quest to secure MTN Top8 football next season is now on a knife edge.

“Chippa is a massive game for us, and it is a matter of life and death for them. In games like this, anything can happen,” right back Peter Petersen told The Witness yesterday. “But we love playing at home and we are happy to be back. The crowd lifts our performance and hopefully that can happen again on Sunday.”

The effect of United’s “12th man” couldn’t have been more apparent than it was during their last league clash at home.

Trailing 1-0 against Black Leopards on March 3 with just six minutes remaining, the Harry Gwala faithful created an electric atmosphere in which Terrance Mandaza scored twice in three minutes to secure all three points for United.

Whether Mandaza plays on Sunday remains to be seen, but with his Zimbabwean counterpart, Cuthbert Malajila, back to scoring ways after finding the back of the net in last week’s Nedbank Cup win (3-1) over Tembu Royals, Mandaza’s chances of starting up front look slim.

Despite United’s Nedbank win being against third-tier opposition, it was only the second time this season that Middendorp has seen his side score three goals this season — the last in a 3-1 win against Moroka Swallows in November. But Petersen says that despite United’s new found rhythm in front of goal, nothing has changed in the way they are preparing for Sunday.

“We made that [Royals] game difficult for ourselves and did much better in the second half,” he said.

“Nothing much has changed at training. We know what to do and we are working on the same things we have been all season.”

And, in truth, United fans would take a 1-0 win over a shared goal fest any day.

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