The only place to start this week is with a big shout out to the 60 AjaxCT supporters who spent the weekend on a bus travelling 2000 km to watch the game against Chippa United. Following the updates on social media from Friday evening through to the return on Sunday morning has made the weekend match experience all the much better. It was a wonderful sight to see a bank of away supporters in the stands and to hear them singing over the TV once the winning goal went in. It has been an excellent weekend all round with the door to the top 8 just starting to open up slightly and the travelling fans can be proud of the role they played.
Most of us watched on TV and were delighted to see another consistent team selection, with just one change as Sasman came in for Mobusa at left back. The youngster had a fine game, as did Brandon Petersen in goal whose recent return to action seems to have injected extra belief and confidence right across the back four. His man of the match award last weekend was surprising given how little he was challenged in the game, but his commanding presence seems to have lifted the defenders around him and he probably won the award just for the sheer relief the match sponsors saw in an organised defence once more. It was a quality he brought into this weekend as well, although he also topped it off with one particularly fine save early in the first half.
Ultimately there was only one goal in the game, but it was an exciting end-to-end match throughout, with the final score in doubt right up to the final minutes. The match statistics suggested an even encounter, but it always looked like the visitors had a bit more class and composure. On the edge of the relegation zone and with no wins in the previous 11 games, Chippa were understandably nervous. Despite playing at a high tempo they tended to rush their play and when a few golden chances came their way they snatched at them. It was a defensive mistake that gifted Thabo Mosadi the opportunity to score the winning goal, but he kept his head well to steady himself and calmly finish the chance.
This was the first time that AjaxCT has won away at Chippa in any of the Western or Eastern Cape grounds that the side has called home. It is not that long ago that this was a local derby of course, and it was a rivalry based on football rather than boardroom animosity. Back in 2013 this fixture produced an incredibly tense finish at Philippi Stadium, at a time when it was AjaxCT in genuine relegation danger. Somehow the ten-man visitors held onto a 1-1 draw that proved invaluable. There were yellow and red cards on an extremely nervous evening, which felt like a real derby game fought out on the pitch rather than the social media platforms and club offices where this season’s local rivalry has originated.
Shortly afterwards Chippa left the city for the Eastern Cape. It was disappointing, and I still feel sorry for the small bunch of supporters that travel in from Philippi whenever they visit Cape Town. They were encouraged to buy into a club and an ambitious owners dream, and then left out in the cold when he saw better financial opportunities elsewhere. Their policy of taking games to the public by playing in locations such as Philippi and now Mdantsane has at least ensured reasonably good crowds and a decent atmosphere. It sadly also ensured a terrible playing surface compared to the delights of Nelson Bay Stadium, where many of their past games have been played. It all meant that the game on Saturday was played out in difficult conditions, especially given the overnight rain. The area close to the dugouts resembled a cabbage patch, and could not have been easy for the players to negotiate.
It is difficult to know what to make of Chippa United and which part of the country they represent from one season to the next. Together with their tendency to hire and fire coaches on the whim of the owner, they are often the butt of many fan’s jokes. Despite their often strange behaviour I hope they do survive the relegation battle they are now stuck in and we get to see and visit them again in future seasons. We should not forget that Chippa Mpengesi did not buy an already successful side and move it to his hometown. He started from the bottom by buying a local franchise in the Western Cape Vodacom League, leaving it in place and working his way up to the PSL in 2012. A success story that we can all respect and that stands in stark contrast to the way our current local rivals have bought their way into the city. Even if they do go down there is every chance they will rise again, given that they did win (not buy) their way back after just one season away following relegation in 2013.
Leaving aside the plight of our one time local rivals, the weekend has been all about AjaxCT. The three points earned in Mdantsane saw the side shoot up into the top half of the log. A position we held onto as the weekend’s other results went in our favour. There are three games left – all against teams from the bottom half of the log and two of them at home. Suddenly this season that has for so long disappointed looks like it might have a final surprising twist. It is still a big ask given the inconsistent form throughout this season, but for the first time in many months we can spend time looking at log positions and permutations while genuinely looking forward to the next fixture with optimism.