Exciting times for United

2010-02-19 00:00

IT was such a scintillating performance that one not-so-insignificant point about Maritzburg United’s 2-1 victory over Orlando Pirates at a packed Harry Gwala Stadium on Saturday night was almost overlooked.

The three points gained from a victory that saw United emphatically blow Pirates away with an inspired first-half display was that it put the PMB team mathematically beyond relegation with two games to spare.

So for the first time in three seasons in the Premier Soccer League, United fans will be able to put their feet up while watching their team’s last two games, safe in the knowledge that the Team of Choice will compete in the top-flight again next season.

United play Free State Stars in Bethlehem on Wednesday — with the game moved from Saturday due to fixture congestion caused by matches abandoned in midweek — and Santos at Harry Gwala on March 6, and the PMB side are still in with a half-chance of a top eight finish.

The top eight race is essentially a two-horse one between United (ninth, 34 points) and ninth-placed Moroka Swallows (35 points), who have a game in hand. The Birds will begin their fixture tonight against Mamelodi Sundowns from 2-0 up in the 37th minute, the point where it was abandoned on Wednesday night when the lights went out at the Super Stadium in Pretoria.

If Swallows hold on to what seems an inevitable victory, it will take some slip-up from the Birds to relinquish their eighth position. This would demand United earning maximum points from their last two games and on-form Swallows not winning either of their home matches against Platinum Stars and Jomo Cosmos.

Still, stranger things have happened.

Most important is that, based on Wednesday night’s performance, United appear headed in the right direction under coach Ernst Middendorp.

“Over the 90 minutes it was a very positive performance,” the coach said last night of United’s second victory over Pirates in nine meetings. “We were obviously very good in the first half; in the second it was a bit more of a struggle, but we defended well.

“Of course we were not playing a small team — Pirates are one of the biggest teams in the country with one of the highest number of national team players. And of course they will push you.”

After their rampant first 45 minutes United attempted to defend in the second half, but struggled to get a counter-attacking game together to keep Pirates at arms’ length, almost allowing Bucs to sneak a draw.

“Suddenly we were passing back or parallel. In the first half all four attackers [Rudolf Bester, Felix Obada, Kurt Lentjies and Fadlu Davids] were available for ground passes, but only Kurt was effective over the 90 minutes.

“Perhaps this is because they could not keep up the pace. But perhaps it is also that there are two coaches at the side of the field and this is how football works. The one coach has a plan and the other coach counters this plan.”

Middendorp said he hopes the phenomenal crowd support United have received in their first two games back at the refurbished Harry Gwala continues. United have won both games back at the stadium, beating Golden Arrows 1-0 on February 6.

“In my opinion it’s very important in a city like Pietermaritzburg to support the club. From our side, we are enjoying playing in front of the crowds and happy to be able to use such a venue. The field is one of the best in the league and I think it’s important to give a compliment to the guys who produced it.

“When I saw it in January it looked like a cow patch, and in four or five weeks they got it perfect. And there are a lot of people in the community who have been a part of this.”

One dampener on Wednesday night, apart from the rain, on an otherwise overwhelmingly positive evening for United, was that the club appeared to have sold too many tickets.

Both stands were overcrowded.

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