Prior to this weekend most AjaxCT fans would describe the 6-0 humbling by Golden Arrows in the 2009 MTN8 final as the worst match in their memory. Now the record books have been rewritten after the unthinkable happened at the Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium in Clermont on Saturday. This defeat at the hands of an amateur side should be something that haunts every single one of the squad involved, and the coaching team, for the rest of their careers in football. We can say that it is the nature of cup football and it is not the end of the world. After all just 24 hours later and we were joined in the hall of shame by our new neighbours from Mpumalanga. Such shocks have happened before and almost every team has a cup horror story to tell. Kaizer Chiefs have made a habit of losing to NFD opposition in this competition. Orlando Pirates famously suffered the embarrassment of a crushing 4-1 defeat at the hands of third tier side Maluti FET in 2013. Moroka Swallows, Free State Stars, Platinum Stars – they have all been here before.
There is a danger, however, of shrugging this off as ‘one of those things’. Just like the club seem to be treating the thrashing at Bidvest Wits just a few weeks ago. How bad must things get before questions are asked about the preparation and planning that goes into these trips and the discipline that is displayed on field? The game was not selected for TV coverage and so we are unable to pass judgement on the performance. Except for a few exiles over in KZN, AjaxCT fans were spared the pain of actually having to watch this shameful result play out in front of their eyes. However, there is again a pattern that was evident from the club’s social media coverage and the match reports that followed. AjaxCT score and then lack the discipline to hold the lead by conceding an equaliser almost immediately – twice. A host of chances go begging. You could almost feel the pain in the fingertips of the editor who had to type the tweet describing Mabaso’s open goal miss in the final moments of normal time.
It is important that the club and the players appreciate just how much the fans are hurting after a defeat like this. We do not want to see pictures of players that were not selected out partying on their social media feeds. We want an apology and an explanation of what went wrong. An explanation that does not patronise and goes beyond the ‘just one of those days’ excuses. Just one of those days that this club seems to have every few weeks.
In this case there may well have been some complacency involved. Certainly supporters were being care free in their predictions of double digit scorelines on social media in the run up to kick off. You have to wonder if the players just assumed the same on their journey over to KZN. These are the sort of things that you sometimes worry about as a supporter, but of course in reality the club is a professional operation and would never take such a game lightly. Would it? There were hints of changes before the side travelled, but the team sheet when it arrived was shocking. Nine changes. Virtually a whole new team. In come the youngsters, out goes the experience. In come those recovering from injury, out go those in form. Imagine what the amateurs of KwaDukuza United thought when they saw the line-up. Probably something along the lines of ‘these guys do not respect us – so let’s make them pay’.
They would be correct to feel this way. In recent times it has become commonplace to rest players in domestic cup games, particularly against lower level opposition. This is fine if you are a rich European side, with huge strength-in-depth and the Champions League to play for. It is also fine if you are moneybags Mamelodi Sundowns, with a huge squad and a recent history of success. If you are a struggling PSL side that has only one trophy this season left to play for and has disappointed your fans all season long, it is disrespectful. To the competition as a whole, as well as the fans.
Many AjaxCT fans had one of their best footballing days out at the Nedbank Cup final two years ago. In a season that has lurched up and down (but mostly down) it was the one competition left that was bringing some hope to the supporters. But on the day our coach chose to treat it like a glorified MDC game. In the pre-match press conference we had already been warned that Thabo Mosadi would be rested and would not even travel. Nobody seemed to ask why. There have been only five games since the middle of December. Why does he need a rest? In other leagues around the world that follow the same schedule as the PSL some footballers have played three times as many games in the same period. We know Rivaldo Coetzee is carrying an ankle injury, but would it have stopped him playing if this was Sundowns or Chiefs in Cape Town? We have watched Jody February struggle all through the year so far, then finally produce a great performance and clean sheet last week, only to be dropped this week. A side that is chopped and changed every week will not gel together perfectly. Our coach did not think that mattered because he underestimated his opponents and now we must all pay with no cup football yet again. Since winning the MTN8 the side has gone out of every cup completion it has entered in the first round. We can look forward to more long weekends of no football and more breaks in action when the side needs to be playing to gain momentum. The only thing that is acceptable from here is a huge response from the coach and the players. Pick the best 11 consistently for the final round of PSL games and let’s see the on field performances we saw at the end of last year. It is the only acceptable apology this dysfunctional side could currently give us.