Another final day home game at Cape Town Stadium with everything to play for. Another disappointment. The prize was nowhere near as significant as it was when Maritzburg ruined the party in 2011, but it was still a frustrating way to sign off the season. We should probably look at the massive improvements in the quality of football made over the season rather than dwell on one bad afternoon, but we will feel the pain of this once the action starts up again in August. The team finishing in eight place would have to face the reigning champions in the first round of the MTN8, so it was always going to be a tough task. It would at least have guaranteed a game against a top side early in the season. We will miss that once the season starts and are playing once every three weeks. Missing out on the MTN8 is a double punishment because not only do you miss the opportunity to enter a cup competition, but you are forced into a painfully slow and disrupted start to the next season.
It is always tempting to look back on such a disappointment and think what could have been. If only we had Stanley Menzo as coach all season. The club has been playing catch up right from the start after that awful start under RDS. If only Brandon Petersen had replaced Jody February a few games earlier. One or two of those expensive mistakes could have been avoided. In particular the away fixture at Golden Arrows now looks like the costliest of those games. A poor goal conceded after AjaxCT had started much the better side. An awful refereeing blunder to disallow the opening goal. If AjaxCT had deservedly won that game it would not be Arrows now advancing into the MTN8. Of course these are all ‘ifs and buts’. It is an old footballing truth that at the end of a long season the league table does not lie. We have had some bad luck along the way, but if we are honest we have also sat through some poor performances this season. Perhaps 10th place is about right for this side after all
The fixture computer threw up a strange pattern of games this season, which saw us face Baroka in the first and last fixtures of the campaign. We probably played them at the worst possible times. You never want to start a season with a game against a newly promoted team that are still on a high from their previous campaign. You never want to finish a season against a team that is playing a must win game to survive. Baroka had no alternative but to give this game everything and on the day they were stronger and more focused than a nervous looking AjaxCT. Right from kick-off the home side looked tense and failed to settle into any rhythm. Passes were over hit and the neat one touch football that has led to some wonderful goals in recent week just did not happen. So much of sport is played in the head and in this fixture it looked like nobody had the confidence and belief to make things happen on the field.
There was hope that an inspirational half time team talk from the coach might change the pattern of play, but the whole game was turned on its head before we got that far. Roscoe Pietersen had to take one for the team with a desperate foul challenge on Mxolisi Kunene as the Boroka man threatened to get away. He was a long way from goal, but there was no defensive cover and you cannot blame the referee for making the call. It had ironically come just at the time when AjaxCT had put together a few minutes of good possession, with some good balls delivered into the box from the left. That pressure dried up quickly as Baroka suddenly saw their opportunity.
It took until five minutes into the second half, for Madubanya to head the visitors into a deserved lead and that looked like game over. It had been 426 minutes since Brandon Petersen had last picked the ball out of his net against Mamelodi Sundowns. However, in those final six games, AjaxCT only scored five times at the other end of the pitch. It is clear where the problems still lie in this side. After a 30 game season we finish with Paulse and Prince as top scorers, with a meagre 5 goals each. Even when Madubanya was later sent off himself to even the sides up there was little direct goal threat. Defensive midfielders came off, strikers came on and still no goal. There was just one excellent opportunity, but somehow the visitors managed to block Prince’s effort at point blank range. It was destined not to be our day.
That chance had been created by Mosa Lebusa who had a fine game and looked the most likely to unlock the Baroka defence as he surged forward from left back. With Orlando Pirates now sniffing around and cover in place for his position he may well move on before the new season starts. This was a sad way for his AjaxCT career to come to an end, as it also was for Rivaldo Coetzee who was sadly not fit enough to make a final bow. A number of other players see their contracts come to an end with this fixture. Maybe we have seen Larty and Paulse for the last time also. Maybe Bantu will finally make the move he has been talking about seemingly for ever. The important thing is that we have a strong coaching set up in place and the football this side is playing when their minds are more relaxed is excellent to watch. If they could free their minds and find a regular goalscorer this could be a team we really enjoy watching next season.