As we approach the business end of the season, the battles to finish in the top four and to avoid relegation are going down to the wire. Gomolemo Motshwane analyses the remaining Premiership games.
On your marks, get set, go! An exciting run-in awaits as the PSL is set to reach its climax this month, and the business end of the season promises to be a mad dash to the finish line.
This is not only in the race for the championship title, but also in the relegation battle, which will draw to a close on May 29.
While the title chase is set to go down to the wire, the battle for relegation will most likely only be decided on the last day of the season.
The DStv Premiership title battle seems to be a three-horse race, with defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns and the KwaZulu-Natal boys of AmaZulu and Golden Arrows all in with a chance.
The challengers from KZN
It has been an incredible season of resurgence for the two KwaZulu-Natal clubs that have surprised the football fraternity by becoming the dark horses in the title race.
Most impressive have been Usuthu in their first season under the ownership of Sandile Zungu and only five months into the tenure of coach Benni McCarthy.
Before this weekend’s round of fixtures, Usuthu were within touching distance of log-leaders Sundowns and are likely to push the Brazilians all the way to the end.
Zungu’s appointment of McCarthy has proven to be a masterstroke and it could pay off earlier than expected.
Still Bafana Bafana’s top goal-scorer with 31 goals, McCarthy has been full of praise for his team as they enter the final stretch.
“These boys don’t know what they are [about to] achieve and they don’t know what they are about to accomplish,” he said.
“They are on the brink of making history and are about to achieve [a milestone] of going so many games unbeaten. I am superproud of this team. There are still six games to go and I hope that we keep our focus and remain humble.
“This team is very special. One day when I am old and sitting on my porch, I will remember this team,” he said.
Arrows’ coach, the ever-modest Mandla Ncikazi, is not interested in entertaining title talk.
“For us, the objective is to keep our feet on the ground and keep fighting until the end. We are not getting carried away and do not want to think about the title,” Ncikazi said.
But he did warn both Sundowns and AmaZulu to write off Abafana Bes’thende as genuine title contenders at their own peril.
“We are still on course. We are running our [own] race. All the noise happening around other teams, we don’t concentrate on that – we concentrate on our team and trying to finish on the highest position the club has ever achieved,” said Ncikazi before yesterday’s KwaZulu-Natal derby against AmaZulu.
“If it happens that it takes us to Africa [CAF competitions], let it be. If it takes us to the top of the log, why not? There is still more football to be played before the season ends.”
Chasing a record 11th title
In the driving seat, of course, are Sundowns, who still have a slim lead. With two games in hand, the Brazilians have an advantage with a few games to go.
Downs are chasing a record-extending 11th league title in PSL history. The team are already on a hat-trick of league titles after winning three in a row under former coach Pitso Mosimane.
Now in their first season without the mercurial Kagiso-born mentor, who left to coach Egyptian giants Al Ahly, his successors will want to prove that they have stepped out of Mosimane’s shadow.
Sundowns had their unbeaten streak snapped when they were stunned 2-1 by Kaizer Chiefs last weekend. The team were eager to achieve a new milestone of winning the league title with an undefeated record. It was not to be, but the title remains their first prize.
The coaching trio of Manqoba Mngqithi, Rhulani Mokwena and Steve Komphela is under pressure to bring trophies to Chloorkop after an overly successful period under Mosimane.
But they should be worried after dropping seven points in their last three league games – two draws and a defeat.
However, Mokwena expressed confidence that their team had the advantage of knowing how to wrap up a title campaign.
“We are in the business end of the season and we know what is at stake. We are in a very difficult block – the fifth block in the season.
“We have always known that this block of matches will be difficult,” Mokwena said. “We have done the hard part, which is to accumulate points.
“We believe that we are still okay and we have enough experience to deal with the situation. We knew that this would happen … there is no perfect season and we would be naïve to think that we could have a perfect season,” he said.
Top eight contest
Early pace-setters Swallows FC, who started their campaign in the elite league following their promotion from the GladAfrica Championship, should be happy with a top eight finish.
The Birds, who are no longer flying high, seem to have secured a spot in next season’s MTN8. But they will need to stop playing draws and start winning matches to guarantee their participation in the season’s opening tournament.
SuperSport United, who were also title challengers not long ago, are in the same boat as they seem to have run out of steam. Together with Cape Town City, United would be happy with a top-eight finish. Chiefs and TS Galaxy are running out of time to secure their spots in next season’s MTN8 competition.
The relegation dog fight
Black Leopards find themselves in the relegation scrap again. Lidoda Duvha have gone to the promotional/relegation play-offs twice in the past three seasons to reclaim their premiership status.
This season, it looks like their luck has run out and they are prime candidates for an automatic chop.
Leopards are six points adrift of 15th-placed Chippa United. With 15 points from 24 games, they are in real trouble. Chippa, on the other hand, have 21 points.
Ironically, Nedbank Cup finalists Chippa and Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM) could find themselves in the promotion/relegation play-offs too.
TTM are 14th with 22 points, while Maritzburg United are 13th with 24 points.
The GladAfrica promotion battle
The battle for promotion to the top flight is ever-intense in the first division.
Richards Bay are leading the charge with 42 points, while Royal AM trail them with 40 points (both after 25 games).
At the bottom, it looks like Bizana Pondo Chiefs could be relegated with a few games to spare.
They have only 20 points after 25 games. Cape Town Spurs are on 26 points from 24 games