PSL part 2: Twice as nice

With no clear favourite half­way into the race for the Absa Premier­ship ti­tle, the se­cond half of the cam­paign prom­ises to be even more en­ter­tain­ing – but far more gru­elling for teams, writes Ti­mothy Molobi

CityPress - - Sport -

By and large, teams play­ing top-flight foot­ball have played as per early sea­son pre­dic­tions, with Mamelodi Sun­downs and Bid­vest Wits set­ting the pace half­way through the sea­son.

Mpumalanga Black Aces have sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions. On the other hand, Or­lando Pi­rates and Su­per­Sport United’s woes seem to reach a new low with ev­ery game.

The rest of the teams have been pre­dictable, with the usual rel­e­ga­tion sus­pects – Mar­itzburg United, Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, Jomo Cos­mos and Polok­wane City – among the teams in the bat­tle for sur­vival.

Three words sum up the cam­paign so far: re­mark­able, chaotic and in­cred­i­ble.

Just past the mid­way point, there have been 10 coach­ing changes, sen­sa­tional goals, hor­ren­dous misses and mo­ments of high drama and sheer com­edy.

There’s still a long way to go as clubs ei­ther con­test for the ti­tle or fight to re­tain their Premier­ship sta­tus. Here’s how the teams look mid­way through the spec­ta­cle:

Mamelodi Sun­downs

The Brazil­ians look un­stop­pable and are on course to clinch their se­cond ti­tle in three years. They re­main the only side to have lost no more than twice in their cam­paign. It would take a mon­u­men­tal col­lapse for coach Pitso Mosi­mane’s troops to lose their grip on the log. Go­ing 11 games un­beaten, Sun­downs have re­minded crit­ics that they pos­sess the cre­den­tials to wrest the ti­tle from de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Kaizer Chiefs.

Bid­vest Wits

Gavin Hunt’s men are still se­ri­ous con­tenders – they have shown re­silience and are not far off the pace. They fin­ished the first half of the sea­son with a con­vinc­ing 5-0 ham­mer­ing of Polok­wane City and, if goal dif­fer­ence were to come into the equa­tion at the end of the sea­son, Wits would be in a good po­si­tion to pip their ri­vals. The Clever Boys’ down­fall has been in­con­sis­tency when it mat­ters most. The ar­rival of English striker James Keene ear­lier this month could prove the turn­ing point in their quest to clinch their maiden ti­tle. The 30-year-old Keene has con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly, with four goals in three matches, in­clud­ing a hat-trick against Polok­wane City.

Mpumalanga Black Aces

AmaZay­oni have been the sur­prise pack­age of the sea­son so far and credit should go to coach Muhsin Er­tuğral, who has turned the side from just an av­er­age bunch into ti­tle con­tenders. Er­tuğral has re­vived Collins Mbe­suma’s ca­reer and the Zam­bian striker is en­joy­ing a good spell, as he leads the scor­ing charts with 10 goals. What­ever hap­pens, Aces have al­ready sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions.

Kaizer Chiefs

Seven draws is a hardly in­spir­ing statis­tic, as coach Steve Kom­phela is well aware. De­spite reach­ing two cup fi­nals – the Telkom Knock­out and the MTN8 Cup – Amakhosi’s play has not been easy on the eye. Kom­phela’s side have been found want­ing at the back, where he has tried five dif­fer­ent cen­tralde­fence pair­ings, but they are still not con­vinc­ing. The less said about their strike force, the bet­ter. Camal­dine Abraw, Bon­gani Ndu­l­ula, Siphelele Mthembu, Bernard Parker and Ed­ward Man­qele have not been fir­ing.

Chippa United

Con­sid­er­ing their board­room pol­i­tics and tech­ni­cal team’s in­sta­bil­ity, the Chilli Boys have done well un­der the cir­cum­stances. The ar­rival of coach Dan Male­sela from Cape Town All Stars late last year seems to have been a good move on the part of Chippa Mpen­gesi. The for­mer Sun­downs de­fender has won three of his four games in charge. Chippa have lost two key play­ers – in Mark Mayam­bela, who went to Su­per­Sport United, and Wil­liam Twala, who joined Chiefs – but their de­par­ture has not af­fected the bal­ance of the team. Striker David Zulu has con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly since re­turn­ing from loan to Chiefs.

Bloem­fontein Celtic

Celtic’s de­ci­sion to in­ter­fere with the du­ties of pre­vi­ous coach Clin­ton Larsen, who left the club in a huff, might come back to haunt them. They have been poor ever since. Their last win was back in Septem­ber. They have gone 10 games with­out a vic­tory in all com­pe­ti­tions. Ser­ame Let­soaka is yet to win a game since re­plac­ing Larsen in De­cem­ber. Celtic have also parted ways with a few key play­ers: Gabad­inho Mhango, Musa Bi­lankulu and Tumelo Mo­gapi.

Free State Stars

Af­ter part­ing ways with two coaches, many ex­pected Ea Lla Koto to strug­gle, but Stars find them­selves in a good po­si­tion. The ar­rival of Ital­ian-born coach Gio­vanni Soli­nas seems to have been a mas­ter­stroke from man­age­ment. Soli­nas has guided the team to backto-back wins, against Plat­inum Stars and Celtic. Stars are no longer fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion – at least for now – but they need to keep col­lect­ing max­i­mum points.

Su­per­Sport United

New coach Stu­art Bax­ter will have to hit the ground run­ning. He will find a de­jected team when he takes charge of Mat­santsantsa a Pi­tori to­mor­row. Af­ter spend­ing a for­tune on bring­ing in in­ter­na­tional play­ers Dean Furman, Michael Box­all, Phumelele Bhengu and Bon­gani Khu­malo – who has since left for Bid­vest Wits – a lot was ex­pected from United, but they have been poor. Bax­ter’s pri­or­ity should be to fix the leaky de­fence.

Jomo Cos­mos

De­spite their strug­gles, Ezenkosi fin­ished the first round on a high, with a morale-boost­ing vic­tory over Or­lando Pi­rates. It was just Cos­mos’ se­cond win of the sea­son. Jomo Sono needs to work on his team’s men­tal strength and self-be­lief if they are not to make a quick re­turn to the Na­tional First Divi­sion (NFD). Hope­fully their vic­tory last Satur­day was a sign of things to come.

Mar­itzburg United

The death of winger Mondli Cele could not have come at a worse time – the team were just find­ing their feet un­der coach Ernst Mid­den­dorp. The KwaZulu-Na­tal out­fit earned back-to­back draws in their last two fix­tures, but th­ese were games United should have won be­cause they were lead­ing. Though dis­ap­pointed at drop­ping points, Mid­den­dorp would have been en­cour­aged by how his team played. They were ruth­less in at­tack but poor at the back. Now they have to fill Cele’s void, and quickly, as they have just one vic­tory to show for 14 league matches.

Golden Ar­rows

So far so good for Abafana Bes’thende, even af­ter be­ing dumped by Ser­ame Let­soaka as coach last month. Aside from their 2-0 home de­feat to Chippa, Ar­rows have given a good ac­count of them­selves and find them­selves in the im­por­tant top-eight bracket. The team’s aim for the sea­son has been to re­tain league sta­tus af­ter gain­ing pro­mo­tion from the NFD last sea­son. Any­thing more would be a bonus for coach Larsen. He needs to en­sure sur­vival first.

Ajax Cape Town

It has not been a good first round for coach Roger De Sá and his team. Ajax find them­selves on the wrong end of the ta­ble. The Ur­ban War­riors seem not to have re­cov­ered from the hang­over af­ter their MTN8 Cup tri­umph. The pass­ing of de­fender Ce­cil Lolo also hit the team hard. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup might prove too tax­ing for the young side. The dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion for Ajax will be: where will they want to fea­ture – re­tain­ing their PSL sta­tus or go­ing all the way in the con­ti­nen­tal show­piece? The re­al­ity is that Ajax have lost matches they should have won and De Sá is un­der a lot of pres­sure to start de­liv­er­ing points.

Or­lando Pi­rates

If there were an award for in­con­sis­tency in the first half of the sea­son, Pi­rates would win it hands down. But with no CAF com­pe­ti­tion to dis­tract them this year, the Buc­ca­neers should be able to claw their way back. Coach Eric Tin­kler’s side have a lot of ground to cover. They have been poor this sea­son and Tin­kler needs to start de­liv­er­ing, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing all the pres­sure he has been un­der. He needs to de­cide on his start­ing line-up, as he has been fid­dling with his team ahead of al­most ever game. The sooner the coach gets his com­bi­na­tions right, the bet­ter for him and his fu­ture.

Plat­inum Stars

Their vic­tory over Chiefs should not be the be-all and end-all, since there is still a long way to go for Dik­wena, who have been in­con­sis­tent. Stars seem to save their best for big­ger teams – Chiefs, Pi­rates and Sun­downs – but th­ese are not the matches that ul­ti­mately de­cide a good fin­ish. They need to do well against the so-called min­nows too. So far, coach Cavin John­son has done well, but he could have done far bet­ter, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that he lost to Free State Stars at home.

Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria

AmaTuks will have a new man in the dugout when they travel to Plat­inum Stars this af­ter­noon. Shaun Bartlett, who has re­placed Sammy Troughton, will be hop­ing for a pos­i­tive start. With AmaTuks strug­gling in front of goal, the for­mer Bafana Bafana striker should teach his strik­ers how he used to bang them in for club and coun­try if they are to sur­vive the drop. The univer­sity side re­ally needs to score more – they are the only team still in sin­gle dig­its on the goal count.

Polok­wane City

Their 5-0 ham­mer­ing at the hands of Bid­vest Wits last week­end must have brought back mem­o­ries of last sea­son, when they con­ceded the most goals in the sea­son: 60. Coach Júlio Leal needs to tighten up his de­fence to avoid dic­ing with rel­e­ga­tion, as hap­pened in their last two sea­sons. Surely City do not want to en­trust their fate to the play-offs again?

PHOTO: SA­MUEL SHIVAMBU / BACKPAGEPIX PHOTO: SA­MUEL SHIVAMBU / BACKPAGEPIX PHOTO: TREVOR KUNENE PHOTO: SA­MUEL SHIVAMBU / BACKPAGEPIX

SEN­SA­TIONAL Kea­gan Dolly has helped Sun­downs to the sum­mit of the log HEAVY HIT­TER Collins Mbe­suma is lead­ing the

scor­ing charts ON TOP

Pitso Mosi­mane has found the win­ning for­mula for Sun­downs HOT SEAT

Stu­art Bax­ter is tak­ing over from Gor­don Igesund at Su­per­Sport United

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