Team of Choice face tough test against wounded Birds

2012-11-23 00:00

THERE are certainly no easy games in the PSL, but tomorrow night’s trip to Dobsonville Stadium is a daunting one for Maritzburg United.

Expectations rise when a team is sitting third on the standings behind only the two biggest football clubs in South African history, and United currently occupy that position thanks to a tactically disciplined start to the season that has seen them lose just once in 11 matches.

United’s strength this season has been their defence. Having scored 13 goals all season, Shu-Aib Walters has picked the ball out of his net just eight times.

But their opponents tomorrow night are last season’s runners-up, and United coach Ernst Middendorp is all too aware that a difficult night in Soweto awaits his side, which will be without Delron Buckley (suspension), Orlando Smeekes (broken foot) and Peter Petersen (hip).

Swallows were on the wrong side of a five-goal thriller against log leaders Kaizer Chiefs after some now familiar controversial refereeing had its say in yet another PSL clash.

“They played very well in that game and they could easily have won it,” Middendorp told The Witness yesterday.

“They are coming off a couple of poor results and this will be a must-win game for them and they will attack us from the beginning.”

And Swallows have the fire power to do just that.

With a rejuvenated Lerato Chabangu firing up front alongside Katlego Mashego, and former United winger Felix Obada finding some form at his new club, Swallows have the weaponry to hurt any side in the country. And with coach Zeca Marques identifying tomorrow night’s clash as a “must-win”, Swallows will enter the match as favourites.

It is then encouraging for United fans that Middendorp has instilled such a disciplined defensive mindset into his charges this season.

While they have appeared relatively toothless at times on attack, United remain a side that defends as a structured unit and maintains its shape with bodies behind the ball.

The centreback pairing of Mohamed Awal and Mario Booysen is now a matured one, and Middendorp is not afraid to throw in Byrone Hendricks as a third centreback to beef up his defence.

The three-pronged central defence flanked by two wingbacks is a strategy that the coach has implemented in United’s last two league outings, with no goals conceded on either occasion.

“That is still an option for us, but I need to assess the situation and see what is best for the match,” said Middendorp.

“We have many options and many players who can play in different positions. Whatever we do will not be new for us. We are flexible and we have worked on these formations in training.”

Middendorp also confirmed that he was likely to turn to on-loan Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Mthokozisi Yende to fill the void left by the suspended and influential Buckley. Yende was left out of Tuesday night’s 0-0 draw with SuperSport and featured for just a couple of minutes in the 1-0 win over Golden Arrows on November 10.

“I have not kept it a secret that he [Yende] will replace Buckley,” the coach said. “It has been a difficult time for him but we need him to do what we know he can.”

Speaking of his side’s goalless draw on Tuesday night, where United failed to capitalise on SuperSport’s red card, Middendorp was rational.

“We need to be realistic,” he said. “SuperSport are a side that has players on their bench who would start for most teams in the country. After the red card they were very structured and we had to be very careful. A point is fine by me.”

Tomorrow night’s tie kicks off at 8.15 pm and will be shown on SABC1.

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