Two weeks ago when AjaxCT beat Platinum Stars at Cape Town Stadium the talk began again about a top half finish. I was cautious at the time, but have to agree now that this side seems to be the form team in the race to claim one of the last couple of MTN8 places available. Three wins in a row with no goals conceded has pushed confidence levels sky high, both on the pitch and in the stands. There was a party vibe at Athlone Stadium this weekend and a real feeling that after a long and difficult season things are really coming together.
The two early goals on Saturday night gave everyone the chance to relax, unlike the last home game where we had to wait until late in the second half to finally kill the game off. Both were well worked goals, but the first was something a bit special. The control of a difficult high ball from Bantu Mzwakali deep in his own half was followed by a wonderfully weighted first time pass to release Neo Makua. The youngster drew the defenders, cut inside and released a perfect ball for Prince to finish calmly. A nicely taken goal from a striker in the middle of a goal drought and as good a piece of football as you will see from any side in the PSL.
Most match reports claimed the win was comfortable for the home side, but we should not overlook the effort Celtic put in to get back into the game. Often they overran the home side in midfield as they ran at the AjaxCT fullbacks and created a string of chances. Brandon Peterson was forced into good saves to deny Razak and Lakay. He was probably more deserving of a man of the match award here than the one he got last time out, when Platinum Stars really did not trouble him too much. The visitors put a simple headed chance over the bar shortly afterwards and went on to run the second half, but were shockingly wasteful in front of goal. It would be nice to see AjaxCT really relax and turn on the style after taking early control of the game, but here they seemed content to hold what they had.
It is true that the side was missing Thabo Mosadi who picked up an injury and Grant Margeman who was again away on international duty. Not all PSL sides have released their young players for the U20 World Cup in Korea. He may be only 18, but it is undeniable that Margeman has become a key part of the midfield this season. Given the importance of the tournament it was always going to be the case that he would be released (along with Shane Saralina and Masilake Phohlongo) once the side were safe from any lingering relegation fears. AjaxCT have done the right thing and should benefit from the further development of each of the three players during their tournament experience.
However, back at Athlone and already missing two key attacking players, it was a bad time for Mark Mayambela to have an off-night. His form has been outstanding in the second half of the season, but against Celtic little came off for him and he cut an increasingly frustrated figure as the night wore on. His substitution was almost a merciful release, but he let himself down by walking so slowly off the pitch that he forced the referee to show him a yellow card for time wasting. Unlike the mad decision that saw the injured Grant Margeman red carded for the same offence in the last game at Athlone, this one was deserved. The coach did not look amused as Mayambela headed past him into the dugout.
So with so much attacking talent either missing or off form it was perhaps no surprise that the side lacked a little going forward. Credit should be given to the players who stepped up to show this is a squad game by coming back into the starting eleven – Mdabuka, Mzwakali, and particularly Makua. We are used to it of course, but yet again young players are coming through into the first team, playing crucial roles, and in this case taking away the man of the match award. On a weekend when Ajax Amsterdam named the youngest-ever starting XI in the history of the Dutch Eredivisie (20 years, 139 days), the Ajax Academy is clearly still working well. Importantly, as Amsterdam have shown by reaching the Europa League final this week, it is a model that can also bring on field success.