United in for hard times

2012-04-04 00:00

MARITZBURG United may be flying high in the Nedbank Cup, but today sees the start of a massive few days for the club as far as their league ambitions this season are concerned.

The Team of Choice hosts Gavin Hunt’s SuperSport United at Harry Gwala Stadium in a 7.30 pm kick off tonight, and Ernst Middendorp’s men will desperately want to carry their impressive cup form into the PSL.

The sides met in Pretoria last October when Maritzburg were on a run of 10 undefeated league matches under coach Ian Palmer, but the 7-0 thrashing that the visitors received at the hands of the three-time PSL champions that Friday evening ignited what has been a downward spiral of performances and results.

Maritzburg, then third on the log, now occupy 13th position on the table and are just five points ahead of Santos, who occupy the relegation/promotion playoff position (15th).

Under Middendorp, Maritzburg have amassed five points from a possible 21 since the German took over at the start of the second half of the season.

It hasn’t been an easy start to his second tenure at the club, and thoughts of an all too familiar relegation battle will have started creeping into the heads of fans, players and possibly even the coach.

Maritzburg are not helped by the fact they go into tonight’s match without the services of versatile playmaker Kurt Lentjies, who is suspended after his red card against Golden Arrows in Saturday’s Nedbank Cup last 16 tie in KwaMashu.

The soft-footed 27-year-old is a major loss for Maritzburg, and Middendorp will look to the likes of Wayne Matle, Diyo Sibisi and Prince Olomu as possible replacements.

The coach’s team selection has been very difficult to predict in recent matches, with players being rotated continuously and used in different positions.

In Saturday’s clash with Arrows, regular centre-back Byrone Hendricks was shifted to right back to accommodate young David Booysen alongside Mor Diouf in central defence. And in attack, seasoned striker Diyo Sibisi has found himself out on the wing under Middendorp while regular winger Felix Obada has been used in a centre-forward role.

The only players who seem to guaranteed of a start these days are goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters, Diouf, workhorse midfielder Michael Morton and Zimbabwean striker Cuthbert Malajila.

With relegation rivals Santos visiting Harry Gwala on Sunday in what could be a crucially important match for both sides, anything points gained out of tonight’s match will surely be considered a success for Maritzburg.

Middendorp’s men have already proved this season that they can match anybody in front of their home fans, but the implementation of the coach’s emphasis on keeping the ball and showing attacking intent in the final third of the pitch is what will make or break the home side’s chances.

Defensively, Walters and company can expect a busy night.

The match kicks off at 7.30 pm and will be televised on SuperSport Blitz.

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