Thabiso Kutumela positioned it as a “New Year’s gift” to concerned fans, while Ernst Middendorp said it was a big step towards his team regaining their mojo.
Both comments followed a huge sigh of relief at the end of Maritzburg United’s desperate 2-1 victory over Bloem Celtic in the DStv Premiership at Harry Gwala Stadium on Saturday, since it arrested their club-record 15-match winless run going back to last season, including one knockout assignment.
This important “three-pointer” also lifted the “Team of Choice” off the base of the 16-team standings on goal difference, which they plan to build on.
A delighted Kutumela, the side’s diminutive striker, said after scoring both his team’s goals on the day, and being voted man of the match, that he and team-mates went into the game with great determination to put 2020’s troubles behind them and start 2021 on the highest possible note.
His first-half brace helped them accomplish that and, apart from admirably thinking of the club’s troubled diehards, the player also humbly spoke about God’s grace in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There was an angled shot from Kutumela in the 26th minute that put United ahead and, 11 minutes later, a penalty conversion by the 27-year-old put the off-form hosts well on course to victory, before Victor Letsoala pulled one back for Celtic in the 83rd minute.
That came when the visitors had upped the pressure but also when United had a few chances to get more goals.
Coach Middendorp, who hardly stopped shouting during the nervy proceedings, said afterwards that the victory resulted from a positive re-organisation of players because of Covid-19 and other setbacks in camp, as well as from hard work and steely desire from his men.
United had not been able to win a match since Covid-19 started interrupting sports schedules in March last year, creating a kind of “Covid drought” for the Midlands side.
Said Middendorp: “It’s not only me who is ecstatic [with the win] but the whole institution of Maritzburg United, the stakeholders, the fans, the supporters ... we were definitely waiting for it.
“It was three points needed, beginning of the year, first game — to get ‘connected’ with the rest of the pack in the league. We know we can do better. In particular, in the second half, the game was not managed properly. You have a 2-0 lead, you know it’s very important ... then you know we had five players missing because of Covid-19 recently and coming back into the team.
Swallows v CT City
TS Galaxy v Baroka
Stellenbosch v Tshakhuma
Arrows v Leopards
SuperSport v Chippa
(All at 5 pm)
“This is a reality. You could see some players were looking a bit soft towards the end. In the end, what counts is the result.
“Good! Let’s go and see what the next days are bringing.”
Middendorp has now registered one win, two draws and one loss since he began a fourth spell with United in November. He added: “The team is prepared to come back to the level of how they can play. But we need more time to do it better, with more confidence in each and every position.”
Their next game will, juicily, be against his former club Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the New Year programme rolls on with four fixtures tomorrow and one on Wednesday.
HOW THEY STAND