Maritzburg United are pleased that they don’t have any new suspensions or injuries ahead of their daunting visit to title-chasing Mamelodi Sundowns on Wednesday, but Ernst Middendorp wants to see more sharpness at the front and back from his men.
Having dropped four points in their last two home games, on either side of a fortuitous win at Stellenbosch, Middendorp’s stance is linked to a big hope that his 13th-placed team will save relegation well before the last of their six remaining games in the DStv Premiership this month.
The veteran coach said he was generally satisfied to take a point off tough Swallows in the 1-1 draw at Harry Gwala Stadium on Friday, but he still felt that his men could have scored at least one more than midfielder Travis Graham’s opening goal early in the second half, and they could have done more to prevent the Birds’ equaliser through overlapping defender Sifiso Hlanti on the hour-mark.
Both teams gave uninspiring performances in the first half in the cool weather at the spectator-less, council-owned stadium, but they increased forays into each other’s box in the second period and created far more chances than earlier, to bring each other’s goalkeeper more into action.
“I think playing Swallows as a top-four team, is definitely a challenge. We prepared ourselves adequately, producing a number of clear-cut chances in the first and second half — not a huge number, but you have to take them,” said Middendorp.
“You have to take not only one goal, but a second goal. Then, in defence, if you are not tracking a player adequately, of course, you concede a goal. If you look at the number of PSL games on the side of Swallows, we don’t really need to count them, I think they have probably 150 percent more than us, I think it is definitely something where we can accept this point and it will be valuable for us in this fight to stay in the league.”
His team have had seven draws in 24 matches, to Swallows’ record-approaching 16 stalemates from 25 assignments.
It was also valuable from a physical perspective for Middendorp’s side that no crippling cards or injuries came in the game at this pressure-filled closing part of the season.
Only attacker José Alí Meza remains sidelined from the players Middendorp have been using regularly this year, and who lifted the Midlands outfit from the very bottom of the standings in 2021 with vastly improved results.
After facing Sundowns in Pretoria on Wednesday afternoon, they will have a week’s break and then play five physically-demanding games from May 12 until the end of the month, when the curtain comes down on the 30-game domestic league.
Middendorp and his men, clearly, have a good challenge ahead of them.