No more tears for talisman behind Highlands’ run since their return to premier league
Two seasons ago the image of a sobbing Mothobi Mvala best captured the despair of Highlands Park when they were relegated from the Absa Premiership.
On that fateful day, May 27 2017, Mvala had scored an equaliser in a dramatic 2-2 stalemate with Mamelodi Sundowns but the draw was not enough to save the Tembisa-based outfit from returning to the NFD after just one season in the elite league.
“Eish, that day was full of tears ... we don’t want to be in that position again,” the 24-year-old told City Press, shaking his head as he recalled the day his side tumbled out of the big league.
In a remarkable turnaround the defensive midfielder has now become a joyous image, this time as the talisman behind Highlands’ impressive run since their return to the premier division this campaign.
“We must collect as many points as possible because the second round will be tough,” said Mvala.
For a side boasting in their ranks proven goalscorers in the mould of Tendai Ndoro, Moeketsi Sekola and Peter Shalulile, no one had imagined a defensive midfielder to be the team’s leading goalscorer.
“We do a lot of finishing at every training session. So the confidence of scoring comes from training,” said the young man from Theunissen, Free State, who was the Premiership’s leading scorer with six goals going into this weekend’s fixtures.
It is interesting that “Sledge”, as Mvala is called by his mates, will face SuperSport United at Makhulong Stadium this afternoon in a 3.30pm kick-off, the same club that was eager to sign him after Highlands were demoted to the NFD.
“It was just talk that some teams wanted me. SuperSport came with a written offer but I opted to go down with Highlands since I was also told that coach Owen da Gama would soon be in charge,” said Mvala, who is in his sixth year at the Lions of the North.
The coach and the players’ working relationship goes a long way back.
Mvala was the integral part of the SA Under-23 team that Da Gama guided to the Olympic Games two years ago.
He will still be remembered for being red-carded for a foul on Brazil’s Neymar during the football competition at the multicoded Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“What a humble boy. He was brought up well – he doesn’t drink or smoke,” said Da Gama of his charge.
“He’s got natural leadership qualities.”
Da Gama and Mvala are now poised to build on their three-match unbeaten streak.
Highlands picked up crucial points off pace-setters Polokwane City (2-2) and Bloemfontein Celtic (2-1 win) in their last two matches, both back-to-back away fixtures.
Now back at their Tembisa fortress, Da Gama vowed to use his home ground advantage.
“SuperSport is a well-established team but them playing us at Makhulong is going to be difficult. We’ve got a strong work ethic,” he said.
Mvala said Matsatsantsa a Pitori will have their tails up after their win over Maritzburg United last weekend.