Can Lions keep roaring into the new year?
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.
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