Much of the media reaction to Saturday nights Telkom Knockout fixture at Lucas Moripe Stadium will focus on the bizarre weather conditions that interrupted play early in extra-time. That is not surprising given how poor the game was overall. By the time the storm clouds rolled over the stadium this fixture had become the fourth of the five ties played since Wednesday to finish 0-0. Unless you are a meteorologist this competition has become a huge snorefest.
It was an unlucky own goal by Erick Chipeta that eventually settled the tie and condemned Ajax Cape Town to yet another weekend of despair, as the long wait for a win this season continues. Much has been made of the poor PSL form since the MTN8 trophy was lifted just over a year ago. The team have taken exactly 30 points from the following 30 PSL games. Thirty games is of course a full PSL season and any team that finished on 30 points would have finished in the bottom four places in each of the last ten seasons. In three of those seasons 30 points was low enough to finish in the relegation places. We can now also add cup football to this dismal run. The defeat to Supersport was the fourth consecutive time the team has gone out in the first round of a cup completion since winning the MTN8.
Were there any positives to take out of the weekend? With no Nathan Paulse in the line-up there was less of a tendency to play hit and hope balls to the big man up front. The ball was moved well along the ground at times, with Bantu Mwzakali in particular being keen to run at the opposition defenders, but sadly as usual failing to produce an end product. It was a night when the end product was missing all round, with so many desperately poor passes and crosses in the final third of the pitch. Jody February also had little to do on his return to the side, but did look confident in claiming the ball in the air. There is a little to choose between the two young goalkeepers at the club, but Jody does give me a little more confidence with his ball handling. Perhaps this also rubbed off the defence as for once they did not give the opposition the free gift goal opportunity that has affected every game we have played this season.
It will probably be the defending that the coaching staff are most pleased with once they get over the disappointment of the result. The winning goal was unlucky, with Thuso Phala’s poorly hit shot looking to go well wide before being deflected in. The timing was also unlucky for Ajax, with the storm then arriving in force and the extreme weather eventually forcing the players off the field. Jody February may well have been hit by a flying advertising board had his goal netting not stopped it from crossing the pitch.
The Ajax staff were clearly irritated with the referee’s decision to restart the game and could be seen on the SABC cameras remonstrating with the match officials. Given the awful conditions it was never going to be possible to play anything like passing football and the game just wound down to a narrow win for the home side. It was clear how bad the underfoot conditions were and how little the officials cared when Ndiviwe Mdabuka slid into an opponent while still standing upright on both feet, as his momentum sent him aquaplaning on the soaked grass. He picked up the harshest booking of the night from a referee that looked like he just wanted to get the night over with and get away from the ground. We do not get much luck in these situations. Remember the 2012 Nedbank Cup game with AmaZula that was abandoned in Durban due to heavy rain when AjaxCT were winning? It did not work in our favour this weekend.
I seem to have mentioned bad luck a lot this week. We can make a case for bad luck this weekend, but can we make a case for bad luck lasting for a full year? This long run of poor league and cup form is draining the enthusiasm of even the most loyal supporters. The local and national media seem to think it’s unfair of Ajax CT fans to call for change and RDS himself has been shrugging of criticism from the stands since it started last season. Surely we are getting close to the time when Ari must make a big decision regarding the coaching position at the club. Those cup finals in 2015 have established RDS as a credible coach with the respect of the owner. However, if you talk to the supporters they will still feel more warmth toward Foppe de Haan than RDS, despite his failure to win a trophy. We all think winning is the most important thing, but after you have sat through a whole year’s worth of poor performances and a dour playing style you start to question these accepted wisdoms.