United ready for Leopards

2013-02-28 00:00

THREE PSL matches and a Nedbank Cup clash that went to extra time — 390 minutes of football in total — have not yielded a goal for Maritzburg United in 2013, but the players are still in high spirits as they prepare for Sunday afternoon’s league affair against Black Leopards at Harry Gwala stadium.

About half of the United squad braved the heat at yesterday’s Carter High School morning training session while others nursed injuries in the pool or spent time in the gym. But the mood in the camp is still clearly positive, despite what has been a poor start to the year.

The shining light for United at the moment is that they are in the draw for the last 16 of the Nedbank Cup after a penalty shootout win against Tuks on Saturday, and even though that game didn’t produce any goals, club captain and goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters believes that the win has done a lot for the confidence of the squad.

“I don’t think we’ve been playing badly at all,” Walters told The Witness after training yesterday. “We have struggled to create chances, but when things aren’t going well we have to go back to basics and make sure we don’t concede and then hopefully we get a goal. We’re still fifth on the log and the guys haven’t been demoralised.”

United’s poor start to the year could, in part, be attributed to the fact that all of their last four matches have been played away from Harry Gwala stadium and outside of Pietermaritzburg. With Leopards languishing in 13th position on the log, eight points behind United, Sunday presents the Team of Choice with a perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling into the back of the net and turn things around.

“After a month of playing competitive games away it is good for us and we are looking forward to it. Hopefully we can get a nice following,” said Walters. “We know that some of the supporters might be disappointed that we have taken games to Port Elizabeth but we still have the Maritzburg lovers. We are in a good position and if we can finish in the top eight it will be the first time we have done that in the club’s history, and we want to do that for the supporters.”

Walters has been in good form this season and he was instrumental in helping United through their Nedbank Cup penalty shootout withTuks. With one of United’s January signings being Namibian international shot stopper Virgil Vries, there has been pressure on Walters to prove that he is still worthy of a place in coach Ernst Middendorp’s starting line-up. Thus far, Walters has passed the test with flying colours.

“Obviously it has been a positive thing to have more competition in the squad,” said Walters. “But for me personally it has been more about focusing on the mental aspect of football, especially to keep concentration in the dying minutes of games.”

With United having conceded just 18 goals all season (19 games), it is easy to see why Middendorp has kept faith in Walters. The problem is that only 18 goals have been scored.

If United are to mount a serious challenge to finish in the top half of the table this season, then that goal difference statistic will need to start making its way into the positives sooner rather than later.

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