Next two games under Palmer crucial for United to stave of relegation danger

2011-03-16 00:00

IAN Palmer returns as Maritzburg United coach in tonight’s Premier Soccer League clash against Platinum Stars at Harry Gwala Stadium and the home team are sure to be keyed up to greet the new boss with a victory.

Ernst Middendorp’s reign of a year-and-three-quarters is over, and the German will count himself as unlucky to have not achieved better this season, with their inability to put away chances having cost United enough points to have been in mid-table by now.

But when things are just not working out, a change is necessitated and United have turned to the coach who guided them to the First Division title in 2008 to save them from relegation.

Competitive Palmer will be aiming for higher than that, though, with a top 10 finish the coach’s target.

The coach has inherited an under-achieving team packed with quality midfielders and attackers, and United must surely be champing at the bit for a strong finish in their last six matches. First, however, there is the matter of relegation.

With Mpumalanga Black Aces (11 points) now almost guaranteed last place and the automatic drop to the NFD, Moroka Swallows (19 points) are fighting to avoid second-last and the promotion/relegation playoffs.

The next two rounds of PSL matches could be crucial to third-last Maritzburg’s (22 points) effort to finally break free of danger.

Swallows play 14-match unbeaten Bloemfontein Celtic away tonight, then 17-game undefeated league leaders Orlando Pirates away next Wednesday in a very tough two games for the Birds.

After meeting 12th-placed Stars tonight, United are away to Free State Stars next Wednesday at Goble Park in Bethlehem.

Tonight will be the test of whether, under Palmer, Maritzburg are finally able to begin putting away mid to lower-table teams at home in more convincing fashion.

Palmer has identified decision-making as the team’s weak point in not scoring more goals.

Middendorp’s technical gameplan, when it all came together, worked like a dream, such as in a 3-0 home destruction of Ajax Cape Town in January. Too often though, United’s build-up play proved over-elaborate.

Palmer this week has spoken about getting the ball into the opponents’ third as quickly as possible after winning possession and creating disorganisation in the opposition defence.

“Do that and maybe we’ll have more composed finishing as well,” the coach said.

“Because I think when United have this [elaborate] build-up play it allows the opponents to organise themselves and then our side have had to rush their finishing.”

United welcome leading attacker Rudolf Bester back from a thigh strain.

The Namibian’s pace could be crucial in breaking down a physical Stars side who play it tough and compact in the middle, with hard-running strikers Bradley Grobler and Henrico Botes providing the impetus in attack.

The PMB team have opted not to risk key midfielder John Arwuah just yet after returning to full training on Monday from a knee operation, while skilful Musa Nyatama is suspended.

Kickoff: 7.30 pm


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