United must deliver today

2012-04-14 00:00

ERNST Middendorp’s latest reign at Maritzburg United has been far from convincing. Since his arrival in December­, United have slipped from 11th to 13th position in the PSL and extinguished any hopes of the top-eight finish that was made a priority by the club’s suits.

But victory in today’s Nedbank Cup quarter-final against Mamelodi Sundowns in Atteridgeville, just outside Pretoria, would go a long way towards Middendorp earning his keep.

The last time United appeared in the semi-final of a cup competition was under Middendorp — last season’s Telkom Knockout where the Team of Choice met eventual winners Orlando Pirates in the semis.

This afternoon’s clash has only one logical outcome and if United are to challenge at all they will have to deliver an exceptional performance. It’s a good thing then, that central midfielder Michael Morton is in such good form. Morton has been no stranger to the customary R1 500 PSL man of the match prize money in recent weeks — his last coming in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Santos at Harry Gwala.

“I was a little surprised to get that one, to be honest,” a modest Morton joked. “I felt there were a few players who deserved it more than me.”

The former Orlando Pirates man, who spent the last two seasons of his time at the Soweto club on loan at Wits, displays an energy that the rest of United’s starting XI will need to emulate today.

Morton knows that today presents a massive challenge, but told Weekend Witness that he believes a win is possible.

“We definitely can’t win the league so the Nedbank Cup is the next big thing,” he said. “For now the focus is on the cup and that’s what I want to win.”

As has been the case for much of the season, United enter today’s match with a sense of stability hovering over their defensive capabilities. But it is up front where the problems continue to surface for Middendorp’s men.

“We have gotten ourselves into a few positions to win matches lately where we haven’t done,” said Morton.

“We’ve been creating chances, but haven’t been able to take advantage of them.”

Sundowns currently lead the PSL standings and their coach, Johan Neeskens, has publically said that he hopes Middendorp will approach today’s game with attacking intent and not with an ultra-defensive mindset. But if Morton’s comments are anything to go by, then Neeskens might find himself disappointed.

“We’re the type of side that can keep things very tight at the back and then sneak a goal to win it on the break,” he said.

It is a tough ask, but victory for United today via any method will surely make this the most successful cup run in the club’s history.

Kurt Lentjies is back from suspension while Felix Obada misses out after reaching his yellow card limit in United’s last outing.

Today’s match kicks off at 3 pm and will be televised on SABC 1.

• sport@witness.co.za

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