One more step for United

2008-04-12 00:00

MARITZBURG United are so close to qualifying for the National First Division final they could almost reach out and touch it.

The Pietermaritzburg team need a victory over fifth-placed Durban Stars in their last NFD Coastal Stream match today to go through to the final. Apart from Stars’ poor form, losing their last four matches and firing coach Sammy Troughton last week, there are other reasons to believe United are not just the favourites to reach the NFD final, but also must now be tipped to win it and be promoted to the PSL.

Apart from a slump just after the Christmas break, United have shown themselves to be the most consistent performers in the NFD, both in the Coastal and Inland Streams. In their last match against then-leaders Bay United, Maritzburg were so convincing in their 1-0 victory over the PE team that the visitors did not manage one shot on target in the 90 minutes, to at least half a dozen by United.

What is more, should United notch up the required victory today over a Stars team they have beaten 3-1 at home and 2-0 away in past meetings this season, their final opponents from the Inland Stream, FC AK, have all sorts of off-the-field problems.

A bribery hearing against owner Aziz Kara, relating to allegations made by fellow Inland team Dynamos, started this week in the PSL offices. This is threatening to derail the home-and-away NFD final on May 10 and 17. A bit like Ali versus Foreman in Zaire, United might be forced to wait a few weeks now to knock out whichever challenger they might face.

But first United have to beat Stars. The team have taken the sensible approach all season, apart from a period of complacency in their four-match winless slump where perhaps their minds wandered too far ahead, and have taken the season game by game. Coach Ian Palmer is sticking to this successful strategy.

Stars consist mostly of young, unknown talent, bolstered by just a few experienced campaigners such as Zambian ex-Lamontville Golden Arrows goalkeeper Davies Phiri and former Hellenic midfielder Russell Khuzwayo.

United will not want to draw today. That would just open the door they shut last week on Bay, who could then beat Nathi Lions in Durban today to sneak into the final on goal difference.

The PMB team will be significantly bolstered by their performance against Bay, in which they showed, in front of a crowd of some 5 000 people, that this current United side has some potential. Striker and penalty goal-scorer Fadlu Davids was the star performer, but everyone played well.

Left-back Buti Sithole had his best home game for United, and David Mkhandawire, Sylla Mbemba and Peter Petersen were rock-solid in defence. The midfield of Justice Sithole, John Arwuah, Lynch Pule and Omar Hendricks swamped their outclassed Bay counterparts, and Collen Zimba was committed in attack.

More of the same will be required today for United to wrap up what would be a significant achievement on its own, of reaching the NFD final in the season after relegation from the PSL.

• Entrance is free, except for the grand stand, which is R20.

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