Desperate times for Team of Choice

2015-04-18 00:00

MARITZBURG United face a massive challenge at Kaizer Sebothelo Stadium in the Free State when they take on high-flying Bloemfontein Celtic in a PSL clash tomorrow afternoon.

The sides go into the match in starkly contrasting veins of form. Celtic produced one of the performances of the season when they dismantled PSL giants Mamelodi Sundowns 5-0 away from home in midweek, while Maritzburg slumped to their second successive 1-0 defeat, losing out to Mpumalanga Black Aces in Nelspruit on Wednesday.

A season that had promised so much from a Maritzburg perspective is now in serious danger of petering out. Coach Steve Komphela and his side were in scintillating form in the first half of the season, comfortably in the top half of the table as Christmas approached. Their good run was making waves too, with coaches from all corners of the country saluting the work Komphela had done in transforming the Midlands club into one of the most respected in the league.

But the tale of the back end of 2014 and 2015 is less memorable. A nine-match winless run was broken in the most dramatic fashion when the Team of Choice became only the second team all season to knock over Kaizer Chiefs — a 1-0 win at Harry Gwala Stadium on March 11 providing new hope. The corner had been turned, especially when a last-minute goal secured a 2-1 win at Platinum Stars just four days later.

But since then back-to-back defeats against first SuperSport and then Aces have left fans in an all too familiar position, and an elusive top-eight finish is becoming more of a possibility than a probability at this crucial stage of the campaign.

United’s run is also daunting. Only five matches remain. Celtic have all of a sudden turned into a tough ask following their performance against Sundowns. United return home for a date with Ajax Cape Town on April 28 in a fixture that already looks like a must-win.

Their final three fixtures are challenging, for different reasons. Moroka Swallows (away), Orlando Pirates (home) and AmaZulu (away) will bring the curtain down on Maritzburg’s season. The Pirates game emerges as the obvious difficulty, but in Swallows and AmaZulu Maritzburg are facing two teams who are slap bang in the middle of a relegation scrap. With their PSL safety all but guaranteed, Maritzburg will be up against two sides who simply cannot afford to drop points.

United are currently just three points off the top eight, and could desperately do with a surprise win tomorrow.

Just why results have not been going their way is difficult to pinpoint, though finishing remains the main problem. A glance at the top goal scorer’s chart in the PSL explains why.

Celtic’s Lerato Lamola leads the way with 11, but Maritzburg’s highest scorer is Ghanaian striker Mohammed Anas on six. Their next best sees Zimbabwean striker Terrance Mandaza and winger Mondli Cele tied on three apiece. It doesn’t matter where goals come from now, but the scoring chart does suggest that there is no standout “go-to guy” in this United side.

The form of Cele, in particular, has been perplexing. His performances in 2014 earned him a call-up to Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba’s preliminary Afcon 2015 squad, though he did not survive the final cut. But since then he has struggled to influence matches the way he did in the first half of the season.

The absence of holding midfielder Ashley Hartog can also not be understated. His calm on the ball, positional sense and long range of passing have given Maritzburg a base from which to launch attacks all season. In the energetic and physical Ryan de Jongh, Komphela has found an adequate replacement, but Hartog’s experience and ability could certainly be used right now.

The truth of the matter is that Maritzburg have also lacked an element of luck. Balls bouncing off the woodwork, being cleared off the line and miraculous goalkeeper saves have all conspired against them at times. But that cannot be used as an excuse.

On April 4 against SuperSport, Maritzburg came out a goal down in the second half and looked a completely different outfit. They attacked, stretched the SuperSport defence and were, yes, unlucky not to find an equaliser. But why did they have to wait until they were losing the match before they started playing that way? If they are to return to the Midlands with anything to show for their efforts after what has been a difficult week, then Maritzburg cannot afford to play with intensity for anything less than 90 minutes against Celtic.

The match kicks off at 3 pm and will be televised on SuperSport Four and SABC 1.

PSL fixtures


3 pm - Polokwane City v Free State Stars

8.15 pm - Wits v Chippa United; SuperSport United v Moroka Swallows


3 pm - Bloemfontein Celtic v Maritzburg United

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