It was a long time coming, but finally we have had a home game to watch this season. Was it worth the wait? It is now 11 PSL games since we last beat Orlando Pirates, in that memorable 3-0 victory at Newlands during Foppe de Haans reign. If you watched the most recent visit of Orlando Pirates as a neutral you were most probably well entertained. In a round of fixtures where 50% of the games ended 0-0 this was a game with some good football and many chances, but perhaps a few too many soft goals. And as usual it was AjaxCT who were on the receiving end.
Immediately after the game many of us were probably heartened by the performance and especially by the efforts of all the new players (although there was far too little time to judge the debut of Cheeseboy). A few days later – and especially after reading Rodney Reiners post-match reflections – I just feel frustrated. So much good work, so much potential, so much to appreciate and yet again so many mistakes in crucial areas of the park that were ruthlessly punished.
AjaxCT were well on top in the game when Coetzee hesitated and Peterson made a mess of gathering the ball. Seconds later we were one down, but it was what happened ninety seconds later that really killed us. Somehow we managed to lose concentration from our own throw-in and Travis Graham was caught in possession, with a wide open defence behind him. The result was yet another one-on-one and suddenly its two-nil. We have seen far too much of this sort of goal conceded in recent times. It should have been our downfall at Baroka a few weeks ago when we spent the last ten minutes of the game conceding one-on-ones. This time we were up against a more effective striker in Tendai Ndoro.
Against Baroka I was tempted to put it down to fatigue catching up with players that had just undergone a marathon trek across the country by plane and bus. Some level of tiredness and a dip in concentration could be excused in those final moments. But how can we give such soft goals away on our own turf so early in the game?
Many PSL sides are set up to be direct and counter attack with pace. AjaxCT favour a more patient passing game, being content to keep possession and work an opening. It looks good when it works, but when we lose the ball while attempting to pass around the back we are our own worst enemies. Our opponents know they will have opportunities to press our midfield, steal possession and then the back door is open. Gifting the ball to the opposition in dangerous areas of the pitch has become something of a speciality for us and urgently needs to be stamped out. As seen by the woeful lack of goals in the midweek round of games, if we could just be tighter in possession and force sides to create their own opportunities we will likely start to see some clean sheets. An organised side that can keep its concentration should really only need one goal to win most PSL games.
This lack of concentration effectively cost us the chance to defend the hard won MTN8 title this season. The team was in a good position to claim a top 8 finish as the final third of last season began, but we threw so many points away with these sort of mistakes. In April we led Platinum Stars 1-0 and looked comfortable until Mdabuka simply turned and passed the ball to Ndumiso Mabena in midfield. The stars striker ran through on goal unchallenged and easily equalized. We threw more points away a few weeks later in Bloemfontein with a full ninety minutes of schoolboy errors. You may remember Mabaso acrobatically back-heeling the ball across his own box to give away the second goal in that game. Ridiculous mistakes are happening again and again and are undermining everything we are trying to achieve.
On a more positive note – one final observation from the game. With around 15 minutes to go an actual attendance was announced. For the record it was 16,808 – not a bad effort for a midweek fixture. As I discussed here a few weeks ago attendances are notoriously difficult to obtain for PSL games. Hopefully this is the start of a new era of transparency by the league and/or stadium managers. Attendance figures give us an indication of how effective the marketing of games is and how strong (or weak) the local passion for live football really is. Over the course of the season it will also give us an idea of how much interest in football has really been generated in the city following the developments with the new franchise. So keep it up Cape Town Stadium – even though we all expect this week’s attendance figure to be substantially lower.