United aim to breathe easy

2009-04-17 00:00

HERE’S an interesting statistic: if Maritzburg United manage to win or draw their Premier Soccer League game against Platinum Stars at Olen Park in Potchefstroom tomorrow it will be the first time after seven league and cup matches the PMB team have not lost on the Highveld this season.

So far United have not managed a draw or win in the thin and dry air of Gauteng and its surrounds this season. The team have managed three away victories at the coast — against AmaZulu and Bay United in the league, and Santos in the Nedbank Cup, all in the second half of the season.

For a team who enjoy playing their games at a high tempo, dense coastal air and humid conditions have clearly been preferred to dust and heavy lungs.

And United could do with at least a draw tomorrow against a Stars team also on 31 points, but above the Team of Choice on goal difference and with a game in hand. While the talk in Pietermaritzburg after a three-match league winning streak that preceded United’s narrow 2-1 defeat to Orlando Pirates has been of the team being almost safe from relegation and even aiming for the top eight, work remains to be done.

Thanda Royal Zulu’s apparent revival from the dead with a 1-0 victory over Mamelodi Sundowns in Hammarsdale on Wednesday in new coach Professor Ngubane’s first game has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons in the relegation battle again. Thanda are just two points behind United, though the PMB team have played one less game.

Following Stars, United have home games against Moroka Swallows (May 2) and Free State Stars (May 6) before their final fixture against Thanda in Hammarsdale on May 9. Three points from those four games really should see the team comfortably safe of the second-last promotion/relegation playoff spot, which now would appear to be the subject of a vicious battle between Thanda and Bloemfontein Celtic.

But a win or draw against Platinum Stars tomorrow would maintain United’s cushion and maintain the release in pressure that has been a vital factor in the PMB team’s good form.

“We’re in a situation where we had just got into a nice rhythm with three league wins, then we played very well in our defeat against Pirates, and with Thanda winning we’ve got to be very careful not to let things slip,” United coach Gordon Igesund said last night.

“We want to be very positive — we’ve still got an outside, outside chance of a top eight finish. We’d want to win two home games to stand a chance of that but we’ve also got Sunday’s [tomorrow] game to think of first.”

Igesund said United will need to take a more circumspect approach in the first half than in Saturday’s 2-0 Nedbank defeat to Swallows in Germiston, where the team dominated the first half but ran out of steam in the second.

“I asked the guys what happened in the second half and they said, ‘we just couldn’t breathe’. So I’m going to have to change the approach a bit. Our style is to attack from the first, but we can’t have a situation where we run our legs off in the first half then hit a wall in the second.

“We’ve lost all our games on the Highveld this season, but a lot of those came when the team was not gelling well together. We’ve got our organisation better now, and I think we can get something from Sunday’s game.”

United have a full squad available apart from suspended right wing Fanyana Dlhadhla.

Miguel Gamondi’s Stars have had an abysmal second half of the season, including a 3-0 Nedbank defeat to First Division outfit Black Leopards on Saturday, but have some quality performers including Godfrey Sapula, Stanley Kgatla, Dillon Sheppard and Joel Luphahla, and United will expect no easy ride.

Also tomorrow, high-riding AmaZulu, who have risen to fifth place with a stirring run of form, might well hit the final nail in last-placed Bay United’s coffin in Port Elizabeth tomorrow.

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