United drilled for Stars

2011-04-06 00:00

IAN Palmer’s return as Maritzburg United coach was marked by a scrappy but characteristically hard-fought Premier Soccer League win at home to Platinum Stars.

United had their fair share of luck in a disjointed but crucial victory, and it might take something a little more convincing if the third-last PMB team are to achieve a result in their clash with Free State Stars in Bethlehem this afternoon.

In the Team of Choice’s favour is that their new coach has had a very healthy three weeks to work with his team, a good space of time to iron out a lot of the kinks in Palmer’s more direct gameplan.

Against Platinum it appeared pretty clear that just two days under their new boss — who replaced the fired Ernst Middendorp — was not enough for United to absorb Palmer’s changes in the team’s gameplan, with the players at times appearing not to know what was expected of them.

Tonight’s tough match on a bumpy pitch in the rural Free State town will be a test of how much Maritzburg have advanced in the interim.

Stars have not won in five matches to slip to eighth place and coach Steve Khompela will have also been pleased of a three-week break to work on problems that have caused his side’s slump.

United have central defender Christian Alder suspended, but this is countered by the return of Byron Hendricks to full fitness, who will renew a once-promising partnership at the back with Senegalese Mor Diouf.

Midfielder Kurt Lentjies’s suspension is also balanced by the return of the skilful Musa Nyatama.

Most crucially for United, key Ghanaian defensive midfielder John Arwuah makes his return from a six-week knee injury that had threatened to rule the club’s 2009 player of the year out for the rest of the season.

Striker Diyo Sibisi, on loan at United from Ajax Cape Town, will be keen to score against the team where he made his name. For Free State Stars, former Maritzburg midfielder Noah Chivuta has been in good scoring form, and could be the home side’s danger man.

At the top of the table, one of the most exciting title races in recent memory is sure to continue to take dramatic twists and turns tonight, especially with leaders Ajax Cape Town pencilled to meet second-placed Mamelodi Sundowns in Atteridgeville.

Just two points separate the top three teams, with Ajax on 52 points, and Sundowns and Orlando Pirates on 50. Fourth-placed Kaizer Chiefs are also still very much in the race on 46 points with a game in hand.

Pirates meet second-last Moroka Swallows at Orlando Stadium in a game that will be closely watched by Maritzburg.

The Birds have been putting up a strong fight to avoid relegation since the arrival of Gordon Igesund as coach in December, including last week’s shock 1-0 away victory against Bloemfontein Celtic.

A second-such result for Swallows would be a serious setback in Pirates’ title ambitions, who are aiming to bounce back from a 3-0 defeat against Ajax that saw the Buccaneers cede the lead to the Capetonians.

Chiefs need a win against Wits University at Mbombela Stadium to keep in touch with the top three.

Sundowns have recovered from a mid-season wobble that saw the Pretoria giants let slip a 10-point gap and fall to fourth place and replace Spanish coach Antonio Lopez Habas with Zimbabwean Ian Gorowa.

A win against Foppe de Haan’s dangerous, young Ajax would loudly re-establish the Brazilians’ title credentials.


Last night: Vasco da Gama 0 Bloemfontein Celtic 1


Today: Free State Stars v Maritzburg United (Goble Park, 3 pm), Mpumalanga Black Aces v AmaZulu (Puma Rugby Stadium, 3 pm), Lamontville Golden Arrows v SuperSport United (Chatsworth Stadium, 7.30 pm), Mamelodi Sundowns v Ajax Cape Town (Lucas Moripe Stadium, 7.30 pm), Santos v Platinum Stars (Athlone Stadium, 7.30 pm), Wits University v Kaizer Chiefs (Mbombela Stadium, 7.30 pm – live on SuperSport 5), Orlando Pirates v Moroka Swallows (Orlando Stadium, 8 pm – live on SuperSport 4).

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