Into the fi­nal straight

Sun­downs, Pi­rates, FS Stars, Chiefs and CT City all in the run­ning for the PSL cham­pi­onship

Sunday Times - - Sport | Soccer - By BARENG-BATHO KORTJAAS and SAZI HADEBE

bbk@sun­day­times.co.za hadebes@sun­day­times.co.za

With Mamelodi Sun­downs sit­ting pretty at the sum­mit of the log stand­ings with 10 matches re­main­ing for the four teams, it is tempt­ing to say the Pre­mier Soc­cer League ti­tle is as good as theirs.

The smart money is on Sun­downs, but with Or­lando Pi­rates a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion from the pedes­trian bunch they were last sea­son, con­clud­ing bets on the league tro­phy adorned in the Brazil­ians colours could be a risky busi­ness, judg­ing by the cou­ture of the chas­ing pack.

Free State Stars have a sur­prise as part of the pre­tenders to the throne as op­posed to their reg­u­lar fights to stave off rel­e­ga­tion.

Cape Town City and Kaizer Chiefs are not com­pletely out of it.

This sit­u­a­tion en­joins us to ex­pect more twists and turns head­ing into the fi­nal straight that will cul­mi­nate in the corona­tion of the 2017-18 cham­pi­ons on May 12.

Mamelodi Sun­downs

Given that their run-in in­cludes only Free State Stars as ti­tle chasers among the 10 teams they are still to face in sec­ond-round fix­tures, the league is Sun­downs’ to lose.

But try telling that to Sun­downs coach Pitso Mosi­mane and you’ll get an an­swer far from that kind of think­ing.

“I think if we win five league games in a row the story will tell,” said Mosi­mane this week. “No­body has won five games in a row (this sea­son), even us. So who­ever can win five in a row, his story will be there.

“What we need to do is to man­age ev­ery­one who’s close to us.”

Mosi­mane’s sen­ti­ments were echoed by skip­per Hlom­pho Kekana and star at­tacker Percy Tau.

Both have ban­ished any thoughts of win­ning the ti­tle, which will be a record eighth for Sun­downs in the PSL era.

Sun­downs will host Stars in their next league fix­ture but still be with­out Mosi­mane who’ll be serv­ing the last of his two-match ban fol­low­ing his first red card as a pro­fes­sional coach last week.

Or­lando Pi­rates

Try­ing to fore­cast Pi­rates’ re­sults this sea­son has been as good as proph­esy­ing what Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma will do about his fu­ture or that of his cab­i­net.

A win this week, fol­lowed by a loss or a draw in the next match, that’s been a story of Mi­lutin Sre­do­je­vic’s team.

That the Buc­ca­neers find them­selves oc­cu­py­ing the sec­ond spot be­hind Sun­downs, al­beit hav­ing played a match more, is due to other teams be­ing as bad as they are when it comes to con­sis­tency.

Sur­pris­ingly, Sre­do­je­vic be­lieves his team is very much on course to win their fifth league ti­tle — the first since 2011-12.

“We are still very far from where we are sup­posed to be but re­sults in our next three league games against Chippa United (away), Kaizer Chiefs (home) and Golden Ar­rows (away) will de­ter­mine where we’re go­ing with the league ti­tle. Those are the games that are likely to de­ter­mine our des­tiny this sea­son,” said Sre­do­je­vic.

With other teams pussy­foot­ing around this ti­tle, per­haps Sre­do­je­vic’s claims can be ig­nored at one’s peril.

Free State Stars

For a team that fin­ished third last in the pre­vi­ous cam­paign, sur­viv­ing rel­e­ga­tion by the skin of their teeth, to be­ing third from top this time around sig­ni­fies a re­mark­able turn­around in for­tune.

For this Ace Ma­gashule or Mosebenzi Zwane must re­ward Luc Eyamel with a big fat cow from the Vrede dairy farm.

Coach Eyamel has the Stars shin­ing the bright­est, with a fu­ture so bright no one can fault them for wear­ing sun­glasses in­side the house. Trail­ing Sun­downs by six points, Ea Lla Koto have the sec­ond-high­est num­ber of wins — Sun­downs have 12 and Stars are tied on nine with fifth-placed City and one more than sec­ond po­si­tioned Pi­rates.

Their biggest chal­lenge is that they score as much as they con­cede, with 21 goals to their credit and 21 against them.

They des­per­ately need to plug the holes in their de­fence if they are to mount a cam­paign that can see them in with a shout of their first PSL gong.

Can Stars do the un­think­able and pull it off? Man­ning Rangers and San­tos have done it be­fore and un­fan­cied Stars will take in­spi­ra­tion from such fairy-tales.

Kaizer Chiefs

They have lost the least num­ber, three, of matches but have a mon­u­men­tal num­ber of draws, 10, which is why they find them­selves in fourth po­si­tion.

Amakhosi are, to the ir­ri­ta­tion of their sup­port­ers, able to squan­der a lead when se­cur­ing three points seems a cer­tainty and in equal mea­sure come from be­hind and snatch a draw.

Therein lies the rub, it is foot­ball not draw­ing. The ma­jor con­tribut­ing fac­tor to be­ing draw mer­chants is how coach Steve Kom­phela sets out his stall.

Sup­port­ers com­plain bit­terly that he sets up his team with his mind gov­erned by the fear of not los­ing rather than in­spired by the quest for vic­tory.

With the Ned­bank Cup and league ti­tles the only hon­ours up for grabs, they pro­vide the last-chance sa­loon for Kom­phela to bring on board some ster­ling sil­ver.

That will not hap­pen if he keeps on bench­ing his new re­in­force­ments, bring them on in the sec­ond half.

It cer­tainly won’t hap­pen if he fails to pick up neg­a­tives from Siphelele Nt­shangase’s game and con­tin­ues to play a hor­ri­bly off­form Ge­orge Maluleka.

Cape Town City

Get­ting Benni was a big gam­ble by John Comi­tis. It is one that is pay­ing off hand­somely. McCarthy has rung changes that have mir­rored The Cit­i­zens in his own im­age. City have been bob­bing to Bob Mar­ley’s Ex­o­dus beat, with a string of stars who put a shine on their maiden sea­son head­ing for the exit. He has had to do with­out Le­bo­gang Manyama, Aubrey Ngoma, Bon­gol­wethu Jayiya, Matt Sim, Lehlo­honolo Ma­joro, Thato Mokeke and Aubrey Modiba.

All seven were crit­i­cal com­po­nents of Eric Tin­kler’s team that scored the Telkom Knock­out tro­phy and a third-place fin­ish which came with the Caf Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion. (City play Young Buf­faloes of Swazi­land to­day in the first leg pre­lim­i­nary round).

Not only has McCarthy kept the team within touch­ing dis­tance of lead­ers Sun­downs, he also took them to the fi­nal of the MTN8 where they set­tled for sil­ver medals af­ter wast­ing a tsunami of chances against Tin­kler’s Su­perS­port United.

The Karate Kid from Hanover Park has pulled off a re­mark­able feat against his Mr Miyagi, Gavin Hunt, whom he has whipped four times this sea­son.

It is cer­tainly a spe­cial start for a novice coach which would be a spec­tac­u­lar gloss should he be suc­cess­ful in an­nex­ing the holy grail of the Premier­ship on his very first at­tempt.

Pic­tures: BackpagePix and Gallo Im­ages

The big five from left, Pitso Mosi­mane, Luc Ey­mael, Steve Kom­phela, Benni McCarthy and Mi­lutin Sre­do­je­vic.

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