Dangerous Downs rate chances against United

2009-12-16 00:00

THE next three matches in the Premier Soccer League could decide the championship, and Maritzburg United are right in the thick of it as they face a determined Mamelodi Sundowns at the Super Stadium in Atteridgeville tonight.

In the past week Hristo Stoichkov’s Sundowns have emerged as the team to stop leaders SuperSport United from cantering to a third successive league title.

Ajax Cape Town dropped off the pace with their 2-1 defeat to Maritzburg at Woodburn Stadium on Sunday. Orlando Pirates have been defeated in recent weeks by last-placed Jomo Cosmos and drew with second-last Mpumalanga Black Aces.

Only Santos — and to a lesser extent Kaizer Chiefs, who were held to a 1-1 draw at home to 10-man Bloemfontein Celtic in their last fixture — remain as outside challengers.

SuperSport have been a lone model of consistency and, with just one defeat, are nine points clear of Sundowns, Santos and Chiefs. Two of the chasing teams, though — Downs and Santos — have a game in hand.

And of those two the Brazilians have been in the most threatening form. Sundowns have won four and drawn one of their last five matches, including Sunday’s 3-0 deconstruction of AmaZulu at Moses Mabhida Stadium.

And Downs have a crucial game coming up against SuperSport next Tuesday that could level the scales.

Before that they play Maritzburg tonight, then Kaizer Chiefs at Moses Mabhida on Saturday.

“We have to win these matches and see if we can get closer to SuperSport,” Sundowns’s leading scorer, Katlego Mphela, told the Star.

“Our match against them [SuperSport] next week is the most important because if we beat them, we’ll definitely have a realistic chance in the championship. If we lose, they are gone.”

This could make for a tough night out for United in Atteridgeville against the country’s richest team, who are intent on flexing their muscle to put pressure on SuperSport.

United saw at close range what a dangerous forward line Sundowns have when Elias Pelembe, Mabhudi Khenyeza and Mphela combined superbly to sink the PMB team 5-1 at Woodburn in October.

It has been Mphela who has profited most from this attacking trio’s domination, and the PSL top scorer’s 15 strikes account for almost half of Downs’s 31 goals.

Mphela clearly does not think too much of United’s chances of stopping Sundowns in their tracks tonight, despite the PMB team coming off impressive victories of their own, 2-0 away to Celtic and the home win against Ajax.

“I know Maritzburg have won their last two matches, but I think we have the upper hand because we are at home,” Mphela said.

United have Fadlu Davids suspended, and while coach Ernst Middendorp has identified the striker as crucial to his gameplan tactically, Davids has looked out of sorts recently and perhaps could do with a break.

Crucially, United were in negotiations yesterday with Sundowns to be allowed to field exciting new signing Kurt Lentjies, who is bound in his loan contract from playing against the team that owns him.

United play Moroka Swallows at Woodburn on Sunday in their last match before the PSL breaks for Christmas and the African Nations Cup.

The PMB team’s campaign resumes against last-placed Jomo Cosmos at the Rand Stadium on February 3.


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