A point away at the side on top of the log seems like a good reward this weekend. However, even though Baroka are unrecognisable from last year’s strugglers, many supporters, and hopefully the team as well, will feel the afternoon was an opportunity for much more. There were many positives to take from the 2-2 draw. This was the most organised we have seen the side so far this season. Leaders are starting to emerge, particularly in the backline. There was clearly a plan to stifle the free-flowing football the hosts had produced this season and for most of the game it worked well. It looked like an exceptionally defensive line-up when the team was announced, but it had the effect of controlling the hosts, while still offering a threat up front. Only in the last frantic, but entertaining, 20 minutes did the plans start to be overturned as players tired and the game become really open.
Sadly, there was still a soft goal conceded and opportunities squandered up front, which prevented this being a perfect away game. Perhaps the moment that could have sealed the points was the late opportunity for Morris when he disposed the home keeper and advanced on goal. With two defenders on the goal line it was not as easy a chance it might have seemed. Morris took the opportunity to shoot low and hard toward the corner. A good option if there was a conventional goalkeeper in place, but in these circumstances, I always feel the shot should be hand height. Easier for a goalkeeper, but hard for a defender to stop without conceding a penalty and possible red card.
Morris had already scored a good goal at that point and together with Kabwe’s earlier superb effort it had been a good day going forward. There was an organisation and intent to the play that we missed so badly last week. Malepe took the sponsors man of the match for his performance again as a defensive midfielder. He performs a role that does not stand out, but is so crucial to the functioning of the side. At the moment, it looks like a masterstroke from the coaching staff and could be the most unlikely answer to the Travis Graham problem that we could have experienced. Let us hope this form continues and that the coaching team can continue to identify players that are flexible enough to play well in a variety of positions. This is after all the ‘Ajax way’.
When interviewed after the game, Malepe graciously told the SABC that the handball call that gave the penalty to the hosts was correct. It was an important moment in the game, with Baroka already looking frustrated after going behind so early. It was also a ridiculously harsh decision, with replays clearly showing it was ball to hand as a mediocre ball into the box took an awkward ricochet. It was particularly disappointing given the way the visitors had the game under control at the time. For the first time this season AjaxCT fans found themselves grumbling about poor officiating seriously affecting the game.
This all came less than 24 hours after the PSL game at Cape Town Stadium was not just ruined, but turned into an absolute farce by a ridiculous series of referring decisions. It is tempting to just laugh it off, as it was after all the fakest of fake teams that had to suffer this farce, but there are implications for all of the PSL from this sort of nonsense. Woeful refereeing is becoming a trend that is not just ruining the odd passage of play, but it is influencing whole games and even the integrity of the whole competition. It has become just one more reason for people to stay away from actually attending games. It is one thing when these crazy incidents happen in front of a handful of fans, such as at Cape Town Stadium last weekend, but my fear is that something like this could happen at a game like next Saturday, when we can expect a bigger and more passionate crowd. The officials are only human and we all make mistakes, but there is no excuse for not knowing the basic rules of the game and then trying to make up for you mistake by manufacturing a result. When a more fiery crowd in a tense atmosphere has to endure such madness, there is the potential for things to get completely out of hand.
Fortunately, Saturday’s game ended with a sharp piece of officiating that TV proved to be correct. Gift Motupa’s goal was offside and the game finished all square. After such a strong performance, it would have been tragic to come home with nothing.