Wits v Sun­downs clash could set tone for this sea­son’s ti­tle race

The Sunday Independent - - SPORT - MAZOLA MOLEFE

IN MAY 2016, Mamelodi Sun­downs set a new record for points earned to win the Absa Premier­ship ti­tle.

A year later, although not reach­ing that mag­i­cal 71 points to clinch the cham­pi­onship, Bid­vest Wits were crowned Premier League win­ners to end a 96-year drought for one of the old­est clubs in South Africa.

And then about 12 months later the Brazil­ians re-earned the ti­tle.

These are clearly the two most suc­cess­ful clubs in the coun­try over the past three years – the tro­phy cab­i­net is ev­i­dence.

Both coaches, Pitso Mosi­mane at Sun­downs and Wits’ Gavin Hunt, are long serv­ing in terms of how long they have been in charge of these two teams.

Bil­lion­aire and min­ing mag­nate Patrice Mot­sepe had to chase Mosi­mane for sev­eral months to get him to take over the reins at Chloorkop when Dutch­man Jo­han Neeskens looked well on his way to rel­e­gat­ing them in De­cem­ber 2012.

Hunt ar­rived to change the small team men­tal­ity at Wits five months later, fol­low­ing in­cred­i­ble suc­cess at Su­per­Sport United, where he’d won three suc­ces­sive cham­pi­onships in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and the Ned­bank Cup in 2012.

There are seven Premier League ti­tles be­tween the two coaches, and that has al­ways made for a bit of ban­ter when­ever they cross paths.

To­day at Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium (3.30pm kick-off) will be no dif­fer­ent – so many scores to set­tle in this early scene-set­ter for the cham­pi­onship race.

Sun­downs com­pleted the dou­ble over the Clever Boys last sea­son, win­ning 2-0 in both the first and sec­ond rounds of the Premier League cam­paign.

It was a Wits side that flirted with rel­e­ga­tion as they suf­fered ‘sec­ond sea­son syn­drome’ giv­ing Hunt the big­gest test of his coach­ing ca­reer. Things are dif­fer­ent this time. Wits are top of the log af­ter eight matches and have 16 points, just six more than Sun­downs, who have two games in hand but have found this new sea­son slightly tricky af­ter the de­par­ture of Percy Tau and Khama Bil­liat.

Hunt, too, has made dras­tic changes – bring­ing in 11 new play­ers to the team and ship­ping out quite a few who were per­haps too com­pla­cent and maybe even tired of hear­ing the same voice, tac­tics and way of do­ing things.

In this busi­ness, it’s ei­ther the play­ers who go or the coach walks away. Hunt stayed and ap­pears to have re­ju­ve­nated the Clever Boys.

Mosi­mane – thanks to Mot­sepe’s mas­sive bud­get – has of­ten found it easy to re­place qual­ity with qual­ity, and some­times even younger and bet­ter.

The search for some­one to take over from Tau was com­pleted in Au­gust when Phaka­mani Mahlambi ar­rived from Egypt’s Al Ahly, who coin­ci­den­tally signed him from Wits shortly af­ter their league tri­umph last year.

Wits mostly looked for free agents to start afresh, while the Brazil­ians, in true Mot­sepe fash­ion, threw the cheque­book at the prob­lem.

It’s at the end of the sea­son where we will see who got it right, but this af­ter­noon is all about stay­ing ahead of the chas­ing pack and send­ing out a big state­ment with three points.

Also to­day: Baroka FC v Su­per­Sport United, Golden Ar­rows v Black Leop­ards (both 3.30pm)

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