Thrills and spills of the NFD

Daniel Mothowa­gae looks at five fac­tors that made com­pe­ti­tion in the Na­tional First Divi­sion equally ex­cit­ing and un­pre­dictable

CityPress - - Sport -

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.

PHOTO: SYD­NEY MAHLANGU / BACK­PAGEPIX

TROU­BLED Even an ex­pe­ri­enced player like Josta Dladla can­not save Moroka Swal­lows

PHOTO: RYAN WILKISKY / BACK­PAGEPIX

HIT MAN Thabiso Ku­tumela’s goal-scor­ing ex­ploits for Baroka FC have set the NFD alight

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