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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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