Can Lions keep roar­ing into the new year?

CityPress - - Sport - DANIEL MOTH­OWA­GAE dmoth­owa­gae@city­press.co.za

To­day’s loom­ing re­peat match-up be­tween Mbombela United and Vasco Da Gama will test whether the Mpumalanga-based rook­ies can hold firm on their im­pres­sive record against coastal sides.

Ting­wenyama (Lions) – United to their fans – have not lost to op­po­si­tion from the coast since the club grad­u­ated to the Na­tional First Divi­sion (NFD) at the start of the cur­rent cam­paign.

To­day, United meet the same side they edged out 3-2 in last month’s Ned­bank Cup qual­i­fiers, at the same venue, the Parow Park Sta­dium.

Un­der coach Vusi Mkhatshwa and his deputy, Mfan­im­pela “Mphela” Maseko, United have been the sur­prise pack­age in the NFD’s race for pro­mo­tion.

They went into the fes­tive break four points adrift of lead­ers Baroka FC.

“We built a team to com­pete be­fore we kicked an of­fi­cial ball in the NFD,” said United co-di­rec­tor Skhum­buzo Mat­se­bula.

“We started with the tech­ni­cal team by re­tain­ing coach Mphela [Maseko] be­cause he un­der­stands the type of foot­ball we want to play. But in­stead of throw­ing him in the deep end, we brought in Vusi as head coach. The com­bi­na­tion has worked won­ders for the team.”

Maseko is the club’s for­mer cap­tain, who guided the team to NFD pro­mo­tion.

Mat­se­bula said man­age­ment re­tained the core of the team that suc­ceeded in the sec­ond di­vi­sion and then built on its strong points to re­tain a place in the NFD. How so? “We trans­formed our play­ers from am­a­teur to pro­fes­sional sta­tus by of­fer­ing them two-year con­tracts,” said the Mbombela-based busi­ness­man. Ting­wenyama are now a team to beat.

The Mbombela out­fit’s vic­tory over AmaZulu in the last fix­ture of the year, held in Dur­ban, rounded off United’s tri­umphs in their de­but sea­son.

Th­ese in­cluded wins over Black Leop­ards and Moroka Swal­lows, both of which un­der­lined United’s abil­ity to clinch vic­to­ries away from home.

Mkhatshwa’s side have suf­fered just two losses – against African War­riors and Baroka – in six matches on the road.

Since their loss to War­riors in late Oc­to­ber, United have en­joyed a four-match un­beaten run go­ing into to­day’s fix­ture in Cape Town.

In­ter­est­ingly, Vasco’s draw against Cape Town All Stars in the last fix­ture be­fore the fes­tive break was the rea­son United fin­ished the year among the top three.

Vasco have en­dured an in­con­sis­tent spell in their last few matches, with one vic­tory, two losses and a draw in their last four fix­tures, hence their place among the bot­tom four.

It seems noth­ing has im­proved for the Parow­based squad, even af­ter coach Tony De No­brega was sacked in Oc­to­ber for poor re­sults.

PHOTO: RYAN WILKISKY / BACK­PAGEPIX

FA­MIL­IAR FOES Mbombela United’s Din­gaan Ma­posha and Vasco Da Gama’s Ritchi Se­bas­tiao at last month’s NFD Ned­bank Cup qual­i­fiers. The sides meet again to­day

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