United’s biggest game this season

2009-01-27 00:00

MARITZBURG United have shown once in recent weeks what potential they have in front of their own fans, and will need a repeat performance in their Premier Soccer League meeting against Bloemfontein Celtic at Woodburn Stadium today.

This is United’s biggest match of the season so far, though in a relegation battle that is shaping up to be the most competitive yet, there are sure to be a few more to come.

The stakes for today’s game have been raised by Celtic, who had scored 10 goals in 16 games, springing to life with a 6-1 thrashing of Thanda Royal Zulu on Sunday in new coach Owen Da Gama’s third match in charge.

Second-last United must beat last-placed Celtic for two reasons – the most obvious to remain off bottom place themselves. A draw would also keep United above Celtic, but such a result at home to the bottom-placed team would be seen as a minor disaster for the PMB team, who need to start picking up points at Woodburn on a consistent basis to avoid a general panic setting in.

That is where the second motivating factor comes in. Psychologically, a second home victory out of three, preferably displaying the positive, dynamic football they did in United’s 2-0 win over Ajax Cape Town a week-and-a-half ago, would go a long way to convincing the team of a newfound domination at Woodburn – crucial to surviving the drop.

The prospect of United being relegated again will be almost unthinkable to their fans. And yet it is by no means beyond the realms of possibility.

United might seem too important an object of possession to the people of the Pietermaritzburg to possibly be relegated. But so are Celtic to the residents of Bloemfontein, and they have the best fans in the country – a good many of whom are expected to be in the stadium today.

All the more reason for United to put aside tired legs in their sixth game in 20 days, and go out and prove that they have turned a corner, at least in their home matches.

Gary Goldstone’s return from injury has made a difference for United, not least of which with the 40-metre strike against Ajax that would have been a candidate for goal of the season in most leagues in the world. The tough central defender, for one, does not see United going down.

“I think we have a wonderful bunch of payers at this team. We’ve been unlucky with injuries and suspensions. With the calibre of players we have, and of the management and coaching staff, I honestly don’t see this team being relegated,” Goldstone said yesterday.

Put another way, United have the management, they have the players and they have the coach, now they need to go out and do the job.

Coach Gordon Igesund has a full squad, apart from captain Bageta Dikilu, who is doubtful.

Today: Maritzburg United v Bloemfontein Celtic (Woodburn Stadium, 3.30 pm)

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