It is no secret that many football fans in Cape Town prefer to watch European teams on Supersport than put their bum on a seat inside the stadium on match day. Of course the teams they choose to support are Liverpool and Manchester United or Barcelona and Real Madrid. Nobody follows West Brom and Stoke City in the EPL or Celta Vigo and Espanyol in La Liga. These are the teams that are there to make up the numbers. Locked in perpetual mid-table obscurity. Never the joy of challenging for a title or the tension of a last day relegation escape. Can you imagine what it must be like to live in these places, support these teams and hand over your money to watch the lack of drama or try to feel the tension that never arrives?
Fortunately the PSL is a few teams smaller than these European leagues. The battle to finish in the top half and so qualify for the MTN8 means that a mid-table finish still has some merit. We go into the final stages of the season and there should be battles for all 16 sides to compete in. However, for the second season in a row we find ourselves stuck in a no-man’s land, too far from the top 8 to realistically challenge and too far from the bottom to have to seriously worry about the dreaded drop. Again, we have found a position of mid-bottom-half-obscurity.
With two games to watch this was one of the more exciting weeks of the season in recent times. The first was really mission impossible, away at reigning African champions Mamelodi Sundowns. A few weeks ago it looked like their tank was running dry after months of non-stop football in all corners of the continent. Suddenly they are back on form and have raced back to the top of the log, with an avalanche of goals. We may have thought that Stanley Menzo was playing mind games when he admitted pre-match that he was already looking ahead to Sundays visit from Platinum Stars. The fact that he clearly rested in form playmaker Mark Mayambela against Sundowns suggested otherwise, and also confirmed that the coach also believes there is too much work required to move upwards from our position of mid-bottom-half-obscurity.
On the evening it was a good performance from Ajax for at least the first hour of the game. Despite recalled Brandon Peterson having to produce a wonder save in the first half, it was the visitors that ran the game and created the better chances. Thabo Mosadi may be testing the fans patience with his off target crossing and shooting, but he never hides and seems to want the ball in any situation. On the occasions when he gets it right he is a serious danger. One great long range effort and one wonderful mazy run in the first half, and both could have opened this game up. Sundowns are however a seriously good side and after not taking those chances in the first half it was no surprise that they would punish the visitors. It took a fine goal to eventually prise apart the AjaxCT defence and we should feel no shame with the evening’s efforts.
Sunday’s comfortable two goal victory over Platinum Stars continued the good form and probably ended any lingering fears of getting sucked back into relegation danger. Perhaps the only complaint would be the time it took to secure the killer second goal and let the dancing in 116 begin. There were so many chances missed in between the two goals that everyone was starting to feel uncomfortable. Normally a clinical finisher, we saw Prince being far too casual. He desperately needs a goal right now. There was more frustrating finishing from Thabo Mosadi, but it has to be said the worst misses came from fan favourites Paulse and Mayambela who both blazed high over the bar from straightforward opportunities.
There was fortune with the goal when it eventually came. A wicked deflection took Ndiviwe Mdabuka’s effort over the line, but it was no more than the side deserved. Despite the points haul not looking good in the second half of the season the side has been playing with confidence and purpose for some time now. Some unlucky moments have cost points – including the worst red card decision I have ever seen – but a lot of misfortune has been our own fault, with soft goalkeeping errors and a lack of composure in front of goal. Given time to work on this, it looks like Stanley Menzo could build a very exciting team. The attacking football is a breath of fresh air after the style favoured by the previous coach. We may not be scoring many, but we are creating more chances in each game than we were creating in a full month of fixtures under RDS. It is just a shame we do not have more of an exciting run in to finish the season with. It is possible that we could win every game and finish in the top half, but it is also possible that we could lose every game and still end up in the drop zone. The likely scenario is that we are heading for mid-bottom-half-obscurity, but the future is bright if this style of football can be taken with us into the next campaign.