United on the warpath

2009-12-19 00:00

MARITZBURG United might have enjoyed a turnaround in form recently, but talk of the top eight remains almost taboo for the PMB team ahead of their Premier Soccer League match against Moroka Swallows at Woodburn Stadium tomorrow.

United’s reluctance to let their minds wander too far ahead to a possible top eight finish, which would be a huge breakthrough in the team’s existence in the PSL, is understandable. So often, once you start talking about it, you slip up.

And yet, it has to be recognised that going into tomorrow’s game the PMB team are better poised than they have ever been at this stage of a PSL season to challenge for a top half finish.

If United can keep their heads against a Swallows side who lost 4-0 at home to AmaZulu in midweek and seemingly have internal troubles, then they will go into the month-long Christmas and African Nations Cup break in ninth or 10th place, with six games left to play.

The Team of Choice, who impressively beat Bloemfontein Celtic 2-0 away, then Ajax Cape Town 2-1 at home, before their narrow 1-0 defeat to title contenders Mamelodi Sundowns in Tshwane on Wednesday, resume their campaign against last-placed Jomo Cosmos on February 3.

“We know we cannot be over-confident on Sunday,” United coach Ernst Middendorp said yesterday. “We had a meeting yesterday morning already in the hotel in Pretoria where we discussed that everything must be focused on the match on Sunday.

“We also know how important it is to still be looking not just forwards, but also at the teams below us in the relegation area. We have a huge possibility on Sunday to be in a good position for our last six matches.”

Crucially, United welcome back striker Fadlu Davids from suspension against Swallows and midfielder Kurt Lentjies, who could not play against Sundowns as part of his loan agreement from that club.

“At this moment we have four or five players who are important to us in attacking. Fadlu is important tactically. Kurt has his composure and always knowing what to do in each situation, and he gives confidence to the players to the left and right,” Middendorp said.

“Brice Aka has been carrying an injury since the Platinum Stars game, and not training properly, but still soldiering on until the break. So we can’t really afford to lose two of those five key attacking players and I’m happy to have Fadlu and Kurt back.”

Defender Bageta Dikilu and midfielders Musa Nyatama, Rudolf Bester and Felix Obada have been finding their form for United.

Swallows coach Rainer Zobel has come under increasing pressure given his side’s mediocre form. The Birds lost 2-0 to Santos and 3-0 to SuperSport United before drawing 0-0 against struggling Wits University in their matches before Wednesday’s thrashing to Usuthu, where Swallows fans at Dobsonville Stadium were baying for Zobel’s head.

“The fans are within their rights to do that,” the coach said. “They are not happy with a 4-0 loss at home and they have reasons to behave like that.

“Today was the worst match we have ever played, as the players committed mistakes throughout the game. I was not on the pitch, but as a coach I have to take full responsibility for the loss.”

Potentially making life tough for United is that Swallows will not want to end up like Wits, whose freefall from the top half sees the Students fighting relegation. The Birds will have defenders Ashraaf Hendricks and Keegan Ritchie back from suspension.

In Middendorp’s words, United’s best approach tomorrow would be to be “confident and not arrogant” and expect the worst, because with a sensible approach there are rich rewards to be gained.

Kickoff: 3.30 pm

More PSL, fixtures and standings: page 53

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