Thrills and spills of the NFD
Daniel Mothowagae looks at five factors that made competition in the National First Division equally exciting and unpredictable
Catch Baroka if you can
There seems to be no way of stopping longstanding National First Division (NFD) log leaders Baroka FC, who went into the festive break two points clear at the top of the 16-team table.
The Limpopo outfit’s remarkable run is due mainly to two factors: their impressive record away from home and the goal-scoring exploits of their talismanic striker Thabiso Kutumela.
Baroka won five of their seven league fixtures on the road, with one ending in a draw and another in defeat (the team’s only loss so far this season).
Bakgaga ba ga Mphahlele, as Baroka are known to their faithful, amassed 16 of a possible 21 points away from home and scored 15 goals in the process.
Kutumela accounted for five of those goals, which included braces against Thanda Royal Zulu (a 4-0 win in September) in Durban and against Santos (a 3-2 victory in August) in Cape Town.
But these figures dwarf Baroka’s home record, where they won three of their six fixtures at the old Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane. Surprise packages from Mpumalanga
One-time relegation contenders Witbank Spurs have now become title chasers. The Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, outfit are the only side to have beaten Baroka.
Another Mpumalanga club, Mbombela United, have surprised even themselves in their maiden season in the NFD.
Since their loss to African Warriors in late October, United went into the festive break on a four-match unbeaten run and ended the year with a win over AmaZulu in Durban last Sunday.
Some of the team’s other famous victories include a 3-2 win over Black Leopards in October and a 2-0 triumph over Moroka Swallows in September, both away from home.
United are four points adrift of leaders Baroka FC. Highlands are no walk in the park
The Highlands Park defence has to be the most stingy in the league, because the team conceded just eight goals in 13 matches so far.
In fact, the Tembisa, Ekurhuleni, team has not lost any game by more than two goals. Guided by former Platinum Stars coach Allan Freese, The Lions of the North have kept seven clean sheets in their 13 league outings. Their defence was only breached three times in six matches at their home base of Makhulong Stadium. The laughing stock of the NFD
It is coincidental that rookies Mthatha Bucks scored their first league victory of the season against Swallows, who are also the laughing stock of the NFD.
The two sides are separated by three points at the bottom of the log. Swallows – with two league wins in 13 games – are also beset by off-field problems, with players going unpaid.
This is in addition to the Birds being docked three points by the Premier Soccer League disciplinary committee last month for their abandoned home league game against Santos in October.
The penalty followed Swallows’ failure to provide security services for the fixture at Dobsonville Stadium. Because of this, Santos were handed a 3-0 win. Also last month, the one-time Soweto giants were found guilty – with AmaZulu – of bringing the league into disrepute.
This followed their failed court interdict to stop the promotion/ relegation play-offs prior to their relegation at the end of the last season.
Meanwhile, Bucks’ comical journey began just two games into the season when they parted with two coaches – Julius Dube was axed before the team could even kick a ball in the NFD. Then Leslie Notsi left after just two matches in charge. Dube was reinstated in September, only to be replaced by Velile Dyaloyi, who took charge in November.
The Eastern Cape club, which gained its promotion via the ABC Motsepe League National Play-offs in July, has won only once in the 13 games it has played so far. The race for the Nedbank Cup’s R7m jackpot
Former Absa Premiership campaigners Swallows, AmaZulu and Santos were among the eight sides that booked berths in the last-32 round of the R7 million Nedbank Cup via the NFD qualification phase early this month. The other teams that will make the draw early next year are Baroka FC, Black Leopards, Highlands Park, Mthatha Bucks and Mbombela United.
TROUBLED Even an experienced player like Josta Dladla cannot save Moroka Swallows
HIT MAN Thabiso Kutumela’s goal-scoring exploits for Baroka FC have set the NFD alight