Troubled Stars still a danger, according to Larsen

2008-10-21 00:00

MARITZBURG United will take no notice of the off-the-field problems that have plagued Free State Stars when the teams meet in Saturday’s first-round Telkom Knockout tie in QwaQwa, says assistant coach Clinton Larsen.

After going four matches unbeaten in an impressive start to the Premier Soccer League season, United turn their attention to cup football for the first time since their return to the PSL. The Team of Choice will hope to maintain their winning form against a Stars side who lost coach Owen Da Gama earlier this month, citing interference in team selection from management.

Larsen said United will not be overconfident against troubled, but still dangerous Stars, who finished a more than creditable fifth on their own return to the PSL last season. This season the Free Staters have found the going a little tougher, with just one victory over Bay United out of four league matches.

“I don’t think we’re going to think too much about what’s going on off-the-field at Stars,” Larsen said. “We know they have a strong team and that they are always particularly hard to beat at home, and we’re expecting a very tough game.”

In the absence of veteran captain and midfield schemer Duncan Lechesa, Nigerian attacking midfielder Prince Olomu and big striker Diyo Sibisi will be the dangermen for Stars on Saturday. Sibisi was last season’s second-top PSL scorer with 13 goals.

“Olomu and Sibisi are capable of causing problems,” Larsen said. “But those are not the only players we will be concentrating on.

“We know Stars like to knock the short passes, and we also know that they are very fit and can run at you for 90 minutes. But I feel our coach [Gordon Igesund] has done his homework and that we will have a plan to counter them.”

United have Gary Goldstone back from suspension and the central defender will be keen to get some game-time under the belt to move on from the elbowing incident involving Kaizer Chiefs striker Tshepo Bulu in United’s 3-2 victory in Chatsworth last month. But with Guinean Sylla Mbemba having performed well in United’s 0-0 away draw against Celtic and 2-1 home win against AmaZulu, Goldstone’s return is far from certain.

“The back four played very well in our last two games, and we are still a long way from selecting our final XI,” Larsen said. “There are so many situations that we have to look at, although the coach has an idea about what he is going to do.

“‘Ben’ [Mbemba] came in for Gary and has played very well. He is a very confident player and believes in his ability. We have three quality players for those two positions in Bageta [Dikilu], Ben and Gary, and it’s probably going to come down to choosing horses for courses.”

The match has been switched from the Welkom Rugby Stadium, where the ground is reportedly hard and bumpy, to the smoother surface of Charles Mopeli Stadium in QwaQwa, which Larsen said should favour United’s passing game and “perhaps give us a better chance of winning”.

The assistant coach does not believe the three-week break from the PMB team’s last match against AmaZulu will affect the players.

“The coach has been on the players’ case at every single training session to keep them sharp,” he said. “Last week everyone was jumping out of their skins to play another match the following weekend, but we have managed to keep that positive vibe from our good start and I don’t think the break will affect us at all.”

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