Defence has United coach worried

2013-04-19 00:00

WHILE Team of Choice fans will still be wondering how Maritzburg United managed to throw away their lead twice to draw with Golden Arrows at Harry Gwala Stadium on Wednesday night, coach Ernst Middendorp is done with looking back.

Instead, he has issued a challenge to his players to take responsibility for their performances as United aim to consolidate a finish in the top eight with just five matches remaining in their PSL campaign.

What has been most worrying about United’s last two matches — Wednesday’s draw was preceded by a 2-1 loss to SuperSport United on Sunday — has been the nature of the goals that they have conceded. Arrows’ first goal just after half time and SuperSport’s winner both came in extremely soft fashion when it appeared that the United defence was non-existent. For a side that has been defensively sound all season, this is of concern to Middendorp.

“There is a bit of a concern with allowing the opposition into the box too easily,” Middendorp told The Witness yesterday.

“We need more inspiration and aggressiveness from our backline. We are too calm and relaxed in certain moments and we should not be scoring goals like this.”

The mystery surrounding Ghanaian centre back Mohamed Awal’s absence from Wednesday night’s game also appears to be solved. After Middendorp pulled off the player at half time against SuperSport before heavily criticising his performance in that match, it appears that Awal is struggling with his hamstring once more.

“Mohamed is a crucial player for us when he is at 100% and he solves a lot of these sorts of problems,” said Middendorp.

Awal and Namibian winger Heinrich Isaacks had a 50/50 chance of playing in Tuesday’s league match against SuperSport United, which was due this weekend, but was postponed due to SuperSport’s involvement in the Caf Confederations Cup, the coach said.

“We have a few extra days now for some players to prepare and that is good news for us. If we have all of our players at 100% then anything is possible.”

Middendorp had praise for Dutch winger Orlando Smeekes, who returned to action on Wednesday for the first time since November and scored United’s opening goal. “I know what it is like to have a long-term injury and it can be very tough,” said Middendorp.

“I was very happy for him and also very happy for us that we have him back.”

With United in fifth place on the log at the moment, there are no less than 10 sides fighting it out for one of five positions realistically still up for grabs in the top eight, and Middendorp is expecting an extremely tense finish.

“The results that we will see over the next five matches all over the league are going to be very strange and unexpected, of that there is no doubt,” he said.

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