Stellenbosch draw on courage and hope for the best
THERE IS yet to be a winning team in this season’s tight and tense promotion play-off campaign after Stellenbosch registered their second draw at the weekend. The Cape Winelands team, though, top the standings with two points (draws against Baroka FC and Black Leopards), while the other two sides have a point each, having played just one game.
This week should separate the contenders from the also-rans when Baroka host Leopards in Polokwane on Wednesday afternoon before Stellenbosch continue their quest for promotion to the PSL with an away clash against Baroka on Saturday (3pm).
If anything, though, Stellenbosch again demonstrated great courage and character in last Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Leopards. It was game in which everything was against them, but their grit and perseverance carried them to a vital point.
The Thohoyandou Stadium in the Limpopo Province was packed to capacity with an intimidating and partisan crowd. Every time the home side touched the ball, there were roars of approval. To be the away team in such an atmopshere was really difficult under the circumstances.
To add to that, Stellenbosch were under the cosh from the opening whistle as Leopards threw everything at them in search of goals. And then, to make things even tougher, the Western Cape team was reduced to 10 men in the closing stages after Diego Brown picked up a second yellow card. But, despite all of this, Stellenbosch hung in there, they battled, they tackled, and they worked their socks off to ensure they remain in with a chance in the playoffs.
Goalkeeper Washington Arubi pulled off a few fine saves, defender Marcus Lecki was an immovable presence at the back, and the return of Manti Mekoa provided Stellenbosch with a steely presence in central midfield. (Mekoa missed the previous play-off game against Baroka through suspension). While those three deserve special mention, every single player stood tall for Stellenbosch on the day. It was a superb, defensive team performance, in the face of motivated opposition.
Stellenbosch coach Sammy Troughton admitted they were second-best on the day, but was, nevertheless, proud of the way his team responded.
“We parked two buses out there,” said Troughton. “It was difficult, Leopards were buzzing and they were really inspired by the crowd they had behind them. But we put up great resistance, we put our bodies on the line, we tackled and we showed fantastic character. I was really proud of the effort.”
Troughton, though, knows that, with two games remaining, they are going to have to show more attacking quality.
“The players looked a little leggy during the Leopards game,” he said. “It’s been a tough, demanding last few days, but we now have a few days of rest before we get back into action on Saturday. It’s some time for the guys to recover and then we will have to come out with more attacking intent against Baroka.
“I’ve told the players that, in this competition, we are going to have to be mentally strong. Baroka will be tough on Saturday, but we will have to be ready.”