It’s now or never

2008-06-27 00:00

It has been a gruelling and trying season for Maritzburg United, who must lift themselves for one more calm, collected pressure performance to beat FC AK in the National First Division final second leg at Harry Gwala Stadium tomorrow.

In a superb performance to shake off two months’ lack of match practice, United gutsily fought back from 1-0 down at half time for a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Eldorado Park. Now 90 minutes separate the PMB team from regaining their position in the Premier Soccer League.

If good things really do come to those who wait, then United are owed more than a few. They waited six weeks for the NFD to start at the beginning of the season while the PSL and First Division clubs wrangled over grants and formats.

When the NFD had a new Coastal and Inland format foisted on it, United took that in their stride too. They went about winning games in a clinical and professional manner.

After the Christmas break disrupted the team’s rhythm and they went into a four-match winless slump to surrender a six-point lead to Bay United, the Maritzburg players rallied again.

They won two matches at home and two away to keep the pressure on Bay, then beat the PE team at Harry Gwala in a more emphatic display than a 1-0 scoreline suggests. United wrapped up the league with a 3-1 home win over Durban Stars. In their last two games United showed they can not only grind out victories, but earn them with sophisticated football too.

The PMB team then saw the NFD final suspended for six weeks while the PSL concluded its bribery case against FC AK.

On Wednesday, United showed character again to outplay a formidable FC AK in their own backyard for the entire second half.

AK, a team founded on razzmatazz and glitz, had arrived at the ground in their blingy, bright orange tracksuits with a confident swagger. In the first half they used three strikers and pushed around a United side looking a little overawed by the occasion. But United rectified a shaky defence and ended the game easily on the ascendancy against a fast-tiring AK. After the game it was the AK players who looked shellshocked, while United beamed broadly and applauded their delighted 120 supporters.

There is still a lot of work for United to do. They still have to beat an FC AK team fighting for their careers and a place in the PSL.

On paper both United and FC AK have some quality players. The PMB side, though, seem to have just a little more firepower.

Apart from top scorer Fadlu Davids, who has scored four of United’s five goals in their last three pressure matches, Collen Zimba was a thorn in the side of AK with his darting runs and dangerous free-kicks, one of which set up Davids’s equaliser.

The central midfield duo of John Arwuah and Lynch Pule are reliable and will be key to victory.

For AK, Zimbabwean Alois Bunjira, Namibian goal-scorer Costa Khaiseb and tall, pacy Rafique Hassim caused plenty of problems up-front and it will be interesting to see if Turkish coach Ali Khan opts for an attacking 4-3-3 formation away from home.

Experienced defender Charles Yohane, who went off injured in the first leg, is available for FC AK. Right-back Mark McVeigh returns from suspension to bolster their defence further.

AK are by no means out of the contest and have an impressive away record, having won six, drawn four and lost once on the road in the Inland Stream. They will be up against a side whose home record is equally formidable, United losing just once this season at Harry Gwala.

On the away goals rule a 0-0 draw would be enough for United, so AK are likely to attack from the start. Fitter United may need to soak up pressure, before capitalising on AK’s weariness to strike a killer blow.

Triumph tomorrow in front of their home supporters, and for United the trials of the NFD will all have been more than worthwhile.

•Entrance for the open stand is free for the first 3 000 supporters, and R10 after that. The grandstand is R20, and the ticket booth opens at 11.30 am. The club will give away 5 000 United T-shirts.

Kickoff: 3 pm

TV: Live on SuperSport 3 from 2.45 pm

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