Over 90 mins, AjaxCT are now unbeaten in five games. But do not get too excited. When an unbeaten run becomes a long run of consecutive draws it is possible to get the false impression that the team is progressing. With three points for a win, however, a run of draws can see a side rapidly slide down the log. When you also add in that one of those draws turned into a penalty shoot-out nightmare against a side of amateurs it is clear that all is not well on the field right now. The run of five consecutive drawn games has included the draw we should have won (Polokwane), the draw we should have lost, (Supersport), the impressive draw (Kaizer Chiefs), the embarrassing draw (Kwadukuza), and now the controversial draw.
The Free State Stars game on Friday night was completely turned on its head by the red card issued to Grant Margeman with 20 minutes to go. Nobody that watched the game could surely argue otherwise. AjaxCT had played well to get into the lead after conceding an early goal and although Stars had come back strongly the AjaxCT defence had coped well enough. With Mayambela, Margeman and Kabwe all linking up well there was every chance the home side could score again and finish the game off.
It was on one of these raids into Stars territory that it all started to go wrong when Margeman pulled up sharply, with what immediately looked like a hamstring injury. He tried to run it off, but a few minutes later had to kick the ball out of play and call the medics on for treatment. The bench already had Funga ready and waiting to come so it was clear that they did not expect him to continue. Sure enough as soon as he could stand Margeman was off, walking carefully to the touch line. With the break in play, many in the crowd had taken their eyes off the action and were stunned to see the game recommence with the referee waving a red card at the back of the injured AjaxCT player as he limped down the tunnel. A genuinly injured player on a yellow card, given a second booking for taking too long to leave the field? That is a first for me.
Stanley Menzo waited patiently in the dugout at the final whistle before approaching the referee. It seems that he still was not informed what the booking was for. In the post-match press conference he admitted that the referee could not tell him what had happened, but there were hints that it was not time wasting. Perhaps only Grant Margeman knows. It will probably be revealed in the week ahead as the referee’s report becomes available, but really why could he not just tell the coach when he asked? He could then clear it up at the post-match press conference. Every single match report this weekend has been vague, with most opting for time wasting or just trying to ignore the reason behind the card. The outcome of the entire game was determined by one moment and 48 hours later we still do not know why.
Of course knowing why would not bring the points back or change any other aspect of what happened on the night. We must be honest and admit that as crucial as the red card was there were other aspects of our play that we should be concentrating on. The incident has taken the spotlight off Jody February, who once again must take blame for the goals conceded. A hopeless clearance while under no pressure gifted the first goal, while he pushed the ball back into the middle of the box when saving the shot that lead to the second goal. It always seems harsh to blame keepers in such situations, after all he saved the initial shot, but anyone who has ever played in goal will know that you are coached to push the ball away from danger to the either side of the goal.
Much of the anger in the crowd was directed at the linesman who did not call goal scorer Mohammed Anas offside. TV replays clearly showed it was the correct decision, with right back Erwin Isaacs slightly late to push out and playing him onside as the initial shot came in. There was a lot of anger amongst the players also when Nxumalo went down in the box after a collision with the visiting keeper. Tempers were no doubt on edge over the perceived injustice of the earlier red card, but on this occasion there was little defence for the AjaxCT striker. It was a late kick out at a keeper that had already easily gathered the ball. On another day it could have been a straight red.
So a controversial Friday night, but not one that was all bad luck for AjaxCT. On reflection there are plenty of questions to ask of this team. Why can they not hold a lead? Look at all these drawn games and look at who scores first. It is always AjaxCT, but just look at how easily we give these leads away. Stanley Menzo is not that concerned as told the press afterwards: “The win will come, for me it’s not something I’m worried about.” Given the fixtures left he is probably correct, but by the time that win does come this will be another season that has slipped away with a bottom half finish and first round defeats in all cup competitions. It really is not good enough given the talent available – both in the academy and that has been transferred in. The bizarre red card was just the icing on the cake of another game and another season that has left everyone in the stands frustrated.