United face a tough run-in to season’s end

2011-04-30 00:00

IF a disappointing season for Maritzburg United is not to turn to disaster, then it seems crucial that the PMB team win their Premier Soccer League match against Mpumalanga Black Aces at the Puma Rugby Stadium tomorrow.

Third-last United’s iffy form in the first half of the season has gone from bad to worse, and the result has been that an 11-point gap Maritzburg held over second-last Moroka Swallows in January has been steadily whittled down to just a single point.

Swallows’ fighting spirit, epitomised by their 3-2 win over Vasco Da Gama in their last league game where the Birds fought back from 2-0 down, coupled with Maritzburg’s plummeting form, now sees the PMB team facing the very real prospect of being overtaken by the Soweto side.

United are on 26 points, one behind Vasco Da Gama and two behind Platinum Stars, neither of whom are totally out of the relegation woods either. Swallows have 25 points.

In Maritzburg’s favour is that Aces’ 2-0 defeat against Kaizer Chiefs in their last league game means the team from Nelspruit are guaranteed last place, and already relegated.

Aces have nothing left to play for, though Mark Harrison’s team have shown they still have some fight left in them by beating AmaZulu 3-2 in Durban last weekend to reach the Nedbank Cup semi-finals.

In the scrap to avoid second-last, the position where teams go into a promotion/relegation play-off with three First Division sides, United have one of the toughest run-ins to the end of the season.

After Aces tomorrow, the PMB team face Ajax Cape Town away and finish the season at Harry Gwala Stadium against another title chaser, Mamelodi Sundowns.

Swallows play Free State Stars at Goble Park in Bethlehem today, then Wits University at home and Aces away. Vasco meet Platinum Stars in Cape Town today, then meet SuperSport United away and finish with a Cape derby at Athlone Stadium against Santos.

So Maritzburg will see it as crucial to get all three points against Aces tomorrow and hope for a few of the results around them to go their way.

United’s form was not convincing under previous coach Ernst Middendorp and has improved little under replacement Ian Palmer. The coach who guided the team to the NFD title in 2008 started with a scrappy 1-0 home win over Platinum Stars, then saw his team thrashed 4-1 away to Free State Stars and only manage a last-gasp 1-1 draw at home to Wits University in United’s last game.

In Palmer and United’s favour, though, is that the team is blessed with some quality midfielders and attackers. They will need to be at their best, and not show any signs of having given up the ghost, if they are to register a much-needed away win tomorrow.

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