United have everything to prove

2012-10-20 00:00

THE time for talking is over and when the dust settles at Harry Gwala stadium tonight, either Maritzburg United or Moroka Swallows will have booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Telkom Knockout.

It is as big a game as Pietermaritzburg has seen all season, and United are in a confident mood after a promising start to their PSL campaign.

Recent form suggests that Swallows still enter the tie as favourites, but United coach Ernst Middendorp doesn’t quite see it that way and said before the match that he was “quite sure” that his side will book their place in the last eight.

He has a fully fit squad at his disposal, with only attacking midfielder Mthokozisi Yende ruled out through suspension.

With a result guaranteed tonight — in normal time, extra time or via the dreaded penalty spot — United know that they will need to find the back of the net.

And the man most heavily tasked with that responsibility is Zimbabwean striker Cuthbert Malajila.

Having netted three times in the league already this season, Malajila has quickly elevated his reputation in the country and is now viewed as one of the most dangerous finishers in South Africa.

But even he acknowledges that despite United’s good run of form, they enter tonight’s match up against it.

“On the one hand we are underdogs because they are a big side that has achieved a lot,” the crafty runner told Weekend Witness.

“But we have the home ground advantage and we must use it. We will have to do well to get to the next round.”

Speaking of his own form, Malajila said that he is happy with how he has been feeling at training.

“I feel good. I feel sharp in front of the goal and I feel like I am able to keep scoring for the team,” he said.

Middendorp had said this week that he had already finalised “eight or nine” of his starting eleven for tonight’s match.

Shu-Aib Walters will continue in goal, while the German coach is unlikely to alter his central defensive partnership of Mario Booysen and Mohamed Awal. Ruben Cloete should start at left fullback, while Peter Petersen’s experience and good form is likely to come in handy on the opposite side of the field.

In midfield, Middendorp has been overjoyed with Byrone Hendricks as his new defensive midfielder and the former Santos man is the favourite to start tonight’s match there.

Whether or not this eliminates space for workhorse Michael Morton remains to be seen, but Middendorp also has the options of David Booysen, Ryan de Jongh and Bafana Bafana’s Delron Buckley in the middle of the park.

Out wide, Terrance Mandaza should get the nod, while youngster Philani Zulu is the favourite to fill the void left by the suspended Yende.

Whichever way Middendrop goes, tonight’s side will be determined for victory and, as is so often the case under floodlights, the affair promises to be fiery.

The clash kicks off at 8.15 pm and will be televised on SuperSport Four.

• sport@witness.co.za

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