Bad team selection, bad officiating, bad mistakes – the truth is that all were factors in another derby day disaster for AjaxCT. The most crucial factor of course is that right now the opposition can put out 11 players that are simply better than the 11 that AjaxCT can put out. They pay the big wages and they sign the big players. Meanwhile, the news from Ikamva is that the CEO is kitted out in a smart suit and the best young players have been sent to Amsterdam without ever having played a minute of first team football. Sponsorships maybe important and it is an academy, but it is not difficult to see which of these models is going to appeal to the thousands of floating Cape Town football fans that attend these big games. We have valid reservations about their origins and their attitude, but they have the better team. It is that simple.
How do you go about competing with a team that has better players than you have? There are things that you can manage and there are things that are out of your control. They all must come together in your favour on the day. It starts with the team selection and once again we saw a side that contained both a back four and central midfield full of defenders. In fairness, it was a formation that worked in Polokwane last week and did a job of nullifying an unpredictable counter attacking side. To prevent the Baroka game being open from start to finish, the coach was desperate to impose some structure on it. On Saturday we faced opponents that were also a good counter attacking side, but had the ability to contain the limited goal scoring threat this AjaxCT formation offers.
It did not make for pretty viewing and even those paid to hype up such occasions on social media would have struggled to see any positives in the first half hour. It was as dull as any Soweto derby that we have sat through in recent years, with both sides looking less effective than they did this time last year when these derby games began. Then came the mistake. Rodrick Kabwe will feel terrible and did in fact release an apologetic post on social media after the game. If the approach to the game is to be so defensive and contain the opponents there is no room for such lapses of concentrations. We sadly see it time and time from AjaxCT. It started with the ridiculous goal conceded in the opening game of the campaign that has set the tone for another hopelessly slow start to season. The coach was later honest enough to admit that his approach to the game was too defensive, but he cannot be blamed for the constant individual errors and soft goals these players regularly concede.
When the coach did change the approach at half time we saw a much better performance, although there were still few clear chances created. The one moment that should have changed everything fell into the out of our control category. Malepe was clearly brought down in the box following a rare moment when the opposition actually conceded possession from a poor clearance. The referee was ideally placed to see the incident, but waved play on. It looked like a foul in real time and TV replays confirmed it later. It can be seen from the direction of the ball (i.e., no deviation at all) that the defender did not touch it, but took Malepe’s feet away from him. Referees are advised to make a judgement by watching the direction the ball moves in such circumstances and he was so close to the action that it is difficult to see how he could have missed it.
The only positive from the incident is that if an equalizer had resulted then the game would have been lost to an even more controversial decision. The goal given in the final few minutes was impossible to judge from the stands in real time. I suspect many of us have replayed it over and over on TV since the game. In the PSL, we do not have the luxury of goal line technology so we rely on the human eye. In this case it would be impossible for a referee to judge from his front-on position, so it was over to his assistant on the line. Fans in the stand get a different angle again and later get to see it from the position the cameras give. The camera angle is front-on and therefore deceptive. It gives the impression the ball is further behind the line than it probably is. Even so, it still did not look over the line. Was there really enough space for the whole of a football to fit between the far edge of the line and Rheece Evans foot? In such circumstances, the officials have to be absolutely certain that there is a clear gap between the ball and the line. Any element of doubt should surely be given to the defender and the doubt here was massive.
Many years ago, a friend who was hoping to become a football referee showed me how officials are trained to consider such issues. It really is simple and low-tech. He laid out a strip of white toilet paper, which is about the same width as a painted goal line. Then he rolled a football over it and asked me if the ball was over the line at various positions. Try it – it is easy to do. You will be amazed just how far back the ball must be until you can be absolutely sure that all of the ball has crossed all of the line. Then imagine making that call in real time from half the width of the pitch away. And also note that the linesman was still not absolutely in line with the goal line when he made the call. It was impossible to judge. We cannot expect officials to start rolling toilet paper out on the pitch in such circumstances (although it may be more entertaining than watching the lumbering AjaxCT forward line right now), but we can expect referees without access to goal line technology to give a large margin of error in favour of the defender. A margin of error that was not given to AjaxCT.
The ugly scenes toward the end of the game resulted from the sheer frustration of these two harsh calls by the officials. We finally saw some passion, but will be paying the price for seven yellow cards later in the season when suspensions roll around. Right now we are paying the price for cautious team selections, a lack of belief and lapses of concentrations. Stanley Menzo turned a poor start to the season around last year and his style of good attacking football brought the side from the drop zone to the edge of the top 8. There a few grumblings in the stands, but he deserves and will surely get more time to get this right. I am not convinced our squad is as strong as we would like, but if we can get back to a positive mind set and selecting balanced formations again we may score enough goals to get away with the odd costly mistake or dodgy refereeing decision. One day we may even win a derby game again.