United must win last four

2011-04-15 00:00

WITH four matches to go in the Premier Soccer League season, every result now in the title chase and relegation battle counts with double weight.

For a seemingly floundering Maritzburg United, their clash tonight against sixth-placed Wits University at Harry Gwala Stadium must rank as perhaps their most important of the season.

In the past two months third-last United (25 points) and second-last Moroka Swallows (22) have largely matched each other’s results to preserve the three-point gap between the two.

The Birds, though, have been showing perhaps the greater fight of the two teams.

Should United lose against Wits tonight then it will give Gordon Igesund’s Swallows every motivation to go out for a win against fourth-last Vasco da Gama at Dobsonville Stadium tomorrow.

Maritzburg’s concern is that their past two performances have been far from convincing.

Previous coach Ernst Middendorp didn’t have the luck, but also, by the last few performances of his team, appeared to have lost the confidence of his change room.

If United are relegated this season they will probably be lambasted nationally for changing their coach with six matches to go, but the evidence presented to the club owners certainly suggested the team were going nowhere under their German manager.

But Ian Palmer’s arrival as a replacement appears to have done little to stabilise the team in the former Orlando Pirates striker’s first two matches.

An ugly and fortuitous 1-0 home win over Platinum Stars was followed by last week’s 4-1 thrashing by Free State Stars in Bethlehem.

Whether or not Palmer and his charges can turn things around tonight could well decide United’s survival chances.

Wits are coming to Pietermaritzburg off a drubbing of their own, 4-0 to Kaizer Chiefs at Milpark in the Nedbank Cup last-16. But that result was more against the trend, as opposed to Maritzburg’s unconvincing form of late.

It’s hard to say why Palmer’s start has been so rocky. The under-rated coach impressed greatly in guiding United to the First Division title in 2008, and promotion back to the PSL.

He is new to most of the current crop of players, though, and one wonders if all Palmer’s charges have been giving the young South African coach the respect or the support that he deserves.

Most of United’s players would secure other PSL clubs quite easily should the team be relegated, so perhaps there’s not much for them to fight for. But they should remember that, having been probably the most gifted squad ever assembled by the club, this would be an utterly disgraceful performance from the team.

There are people in this city who care about United, and having professional football on their doorstep, even if the numbers have understandably dwindled in the stands.

Maritzburg are not a Manning Rangers who, after initial success, were run to the ground by poor administration.

If anything the team has steadily improved in its rotation of players and coaching staff policy. (Though if the club does survive, then surely a rethink in strategy is required from top management after four successive PSL seasons fighting relegation).

All the luck and refereeing decisions that have gone against them aside, this United squad have underperformed this season to an unacceptable level.

They have tonight and then their last three matches to redeem themselves and hopefully reignite some of the excitement in the team from a loyal support base that deserves better from its local football club.

Tonight: Ajax Cape Town v Lamontville Golden Arrows (Newlands, 8 pm – live on SuperSport 4), Maritzburg United v Wits University (Harry Gwala Stadium, 8 pm)

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