Relegation dogfight gets fierce

JOHANNESBURG – The fight for survival has some familiar foes, and stars of the last campaign who have fallen on hard times.

Maritzburg United

What they need to do to avoid relegation? 

Eric Tinkler has brought renewed energy to the team and the KZN capital. The former Bafana Bafana hard-man injected a fighting spirit that wasn’t there during Muhsin Ertugral’s brief stay. Tinkler needs to show the players what this team means for the people of Maritzburg. His men need to improve in front of goal. Their poor finishing, with the worst strike rate in the country, is the main reason they’re rooted at the bottom because they create chances but just don’t convert them.

What will make this fight difficult? 

The Team of Choice are as good as gone after their terrible fall from grace. They were the talk of the town last season with their entertaining football and courageous displays to knock out some heavyweights en route to the Nedbank Cup final and finishing fourth in the league – their best finish. Maritzburg lost key members of that squad and made an ill-advised decision to hire Ertugral. The players’ mental state has been battered and that will make it hard for them to survive.

Free State Stars

What they need to do to avoid relegation? 

Ea Lla Koto’s fall has been as dramatic as Maritzburg’s. The Nedbank Cup holders have returned to their old ways of being involved in the relegation scrap. Stars find themselves in this situation because they wanted to be a “top eight” team who compete on the continent without backing that up with financial investment. Having been close to relegation, they should know better. They need to change the way they run the club and be realistic in their ambitions. Signing old rejects can only take them so far. They need to return to unearthing talent.

What will make this fight difficult? 

Stars were fuelled by emotion last season. They did as well as they did because they were written off. A lot of the players were deemed surplus by a number of clubs, while former coach Luc Eymael wanted to shake off his dramatic tenure at Polokwane City. The club was almost sold but that was botched just before it happened, so there was a lot of motivation to do well. This season there is no such drive, as they’ve dropped the ball and have taken things lightly.

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Free State Stars need to change the way they run the club. Photo: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix

Chippa United

What they need to do to avoid relegation? 

The Chilli Boys have a strong squad with a number of creative players. They also have veterans who bring calm to these desperate times. The problem is that they don’t have a team, but a collection of players who can excite when they have the ball but don’t have the cohesiveness needed to compete at this level. There has been a positive vibe since Clinton Larsen took over but that alone will not be enough.

What will make this fight difficult? 

Their biggest challenge will not be found on the pitch, or in any opposing team. Club owner Chippa Mpengesi is his own worst enemy with his trigger-happy tendencies. Larsen is the umpteenth coach in a long list of coaching changes Mpengesi has made in the club’s short stint in the professional set-up. That instability is among the reasons why the Chilli Boys are a constant feature in the fight for survival.

Black Leopards

What they need to do to avoid relegation? 

Lidoda Duvha have what it takes to avoid relegation in their first season since their long-awaited return to the top flight. They’ve brought colour and the best home fans in the country while slowly turning Thohoyandou Stadium into a fortress not many teams want to visit. Sanity has prevailed and management put their egos aside to continue fielding Marks Munyai and Phathutshedzo Nange, who signed pre-contracts with Highlands Park and Bidvest Wits respectively. They struggled in matches without the pair. The decision to not field them was not only petty but counter-productive.

What will make this fight difficult? 

Leopards go into all matches with the same gung-ho approach. That’s an admirable trait, but for a team who have the second worst defence in the PSL, it’s suicidal. By going all-out they expose themselves at the back, which leads to them being punished. They not only need to tighten things up at the back but also be cautious in terms of how they manage matches, especially against potent attacks. Their inability to switch things up is what has seen them languishing in the bottom four.

Football Reporter

The Star

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