MAMELODI Sundowns’ road to redemption gets no easier as they face the team that sparked last year’s calamitous decline, Maritzburg United, in Port Elizabeth tonight (7.30pm).
A Delron Buckley brace not only gave Maritzburg a surprise victory against their wealthier opponents, it also sparked Sundowns supporter violence as well as the club’s worst start to an Absa Premier Soccer League campaign.
Sundowns went on a horror eight-match winless run after that, which ended with coach Johan Neeskens walking the plank.
It is not often that there is a thrilling title chase and Sundowns are not in the mix. This is new broom Pitso Mosimane’s chance to show spectators that he has transformed the rudderless Sundowns he inherited from Neeskens into the winners they once were. Eleventh position is simply not good enough.
With two wins and three draws since taking charge at the club he once played for, Mosimane’s team has shown small signs of revival – just a pity about the two-month Nations Cup break and the 0-0 league resumption against Kaizer Chiefs that followed.
Maritzburg United coach Ernst Middendorp, the only man who enjoys the bland brand of football his team are playing at the moment, is quietly confident they might pull off another shock result.
"You’d actually be surprised, but let’s wait and see,” he said wryly, when replying to questions over whether his team can do the double on The Brazilians.
"Every coach dreams about having such a high-class selection of players but there is always a chance to win games in the PSL. Each and every team can win – at home or away.”
What will matter most is whether Sundowns can get around Maritzburg’s largely spoiling, defence-based tactics.
Both clubs will be looking for goals, something they have yet to find in the new year. Mosimane is hoping that leading front man Katlego Mphela finds his scoring touch soon, while Middendorp is holding thumbs that Cuthbert Malajila has recovered from a knee injury.
"He [Malajila] started training last Saturday. If we wanted to force it, I would have tried to play him against AmaZulu but I didn’t want to. I know how important he is for us and we made a special programme for him in the last two to three days,” he said. Early indications in the PSL are that it could be a three-horse race between Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and surprise package Platinum Stars for the title. Midweek results saw AmaKhosi surrender first place to defending champions Pirates, following their goalless draw against Sundowns.
The Buccaneers narrowly beat SuperSport United 1-0 to jump to the summit for the first time this season, and Platinum Stars continued their impressive run with a 2-0 win over Bloemfontein Celtic and remained third.