United just have to win

2008-12-19 00:00

WITH the arrival of the last round of PSL matches before the Christmas break, Maritzburg United need to end on a high note and reverse their current backward trend against Thanda Royal Zulu at Woodburn Stadium tomorrow.

United’s gradual progression down the PSL log and into the relegation bunfight continued with their dismal second-half performance to concede three goals in 20 minutes in their defeat against Mamelodi Sundowns at the Super Stadium on Wednesday night. With Free State Stars beating Kaizer Chiefs 2-0, United have slipped to third-last.

If the PMB team manage the essential home victory over Thanda, their mid-term report card might read something like: “Has plenty of aptitude and ability, but needs to apply oneself better to match the talents of one’s peers. Started so brightly but lost concentration as the term went on. Can do better.”

This reporter should know — he had many similar comments in his own school report cards.

The fact is that if United have a similar second half, then they probably will survive relegation, but only just. And it will be a pressurised, gritty and nerve-wracking fight. In a highly competitive season where the challenge for the title is going to be one of the most exciting yet, the battle to avoid the drop is set to be one of the most nightmarish.

To illustrate that there are no weak teams, sides that Maritzburg were easily outperforming earlier this season have all begun to find their stride. In their last two results, AmaZulu have recorded away victories against top four contenders Wits (3-2) and Golden Arrows (2-0).

Free State Stars’ victory against Chiefs followed a 3-2 away win over Thanda, fighting back from 2-0 down. Even second-last Bay United, now under Khabo Zondo, managed a 1-1 home draw against Celtic and 3-3 away draw against Chiefs before going down 1-0 at home to SuperSport United in midweek.

On Wednesday, United were competitive and held their own in the first half against a Sundowns side whose recent poor performances prompted owner Patrice Motsepe to say the players were embarrassing him, and new coach Henri Michel to say they did not know the basics.

Downs, as Bay showed twice this season, are particularly vulnerable — when their backroom is not in the best shape — when put under pressure. Instead, in the second half United played the long-ball and defended too deep, giving the Brazilians possession and space to run. United coach Gordon Igesund’s frustrated antics on the edge of the field could not seem to reverse the trend, while Michel must have thought Christmas had come early.

Igesund felt there were positives to come out of the game, particularly in the first half, against a side made up almost entirely of internationals. There were some, including the steadily improving form of left-wing Tony Tsebedze, and these need to be applied in greater measure.

Thanda are another struggling team to have found form, with a 4-1 away victory over Platinum Stars and 4-2 home win against Moroka Swallow in their last three games.

Apart from the league’s top scorer with 10 goals — newfound Bafana hero Bernard Parker, former Jomo Cosmos target-man Nkosinathi Nhleko has been finding his scoring boots. Young Nigerian winger Felix Obada and veteran ex-Sundowns wing Clement Mazibuko can cause plenty of problems.

United would be ill-advised to repeat their midweek tactic of utilising the long-throw and balls knocked in from deep, against Thanda’s big central defenders.

After their bright start, United have gotten themselves into something of a fix. They have, in Igesund, one of the most competitive and seasoned coaches in the country. His experience is greater than the four league titles, two cups and one first division title he has amassed in more than two decades as a coach, and goes back to his playing career for Highlands Park and in the Austrian Bundesliga in the 1980s.

It might take all that experience to get United back on track, and a win over Thanda before the break must be an essential starting point.

Today: Golden Arrows v Bay United (King Zwelithini Stadium, 3.30 pm – SABC1), SuperSport United v Santos (Super Stadium, 3.30 pm – SSpt 4), Chiefs v Platinum Stars (Olympia Park, 6 pm – SSpt 4), Ajax CT v Sundowns (Athlone Stadium, 8.15 pm – SSpt 4 and SABC1)

Tomorrow: Maritzburg Utd v Thanda (Woodburn , 3.30 pm), Swallows v Wits (Germiston Stadium, 3.30 pm), AmaZulu v Pirates (Princess Magogo Stadium, 3.30 pm – SSpt 4), Celtic v FS Stars (Seisa Ramabodu, 3.30 pm – SABC1).

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