Don’t worry – I am not writing this week in some obscure, hard to understand language. Although, it could be argued that the text above is the language of football and the word it translates to is relegation. This is the sequence of AjaxCTs away form in all competitions since the start of 2017, as posted on twitter by Soccer Laduma’s Joe Crann immediately after this week’s defeat to Amazulu. Just 12 points from a possible 72. As if that was not bad enough he followed up with a further worrying statistic. Since the start of 2016, AjaxCT have won just 22 out of their 82 games in all competitions.
We can argue that the final L in that sequence was undeserved. There were moments on Tuesday night when the visitors looked much the better side, at least in their forward play. On another night AjaxCT could have scored 2 or 3 more goals, but as more points slip away and more time is spent in courts and at dispute resolution committees this woeful season just keeps taking more unpleasant turns.
A clearly frustrated Mushin Ertugal did not really know how to explain it after the game. He questioned the players concentration and he probably has a point when you look back at the game. After AjaxCT got back level with that wonder goal from Rodrick Kabwe there were several chances to score as the visitors began to dominate the play. The attacking threat was stifled by two longish injury breaks and when play resumed the visitors conceded a needless free kick that they then defended poorly, allowing a farcical winning goal for the home side.
The free kick into the box was nothing more than a hopeful long ball. Two defenders and two attackers rose to meet it and all four missed it. The ball then span up off the wet surface and struck Siyanda Zwane as he ran back to goal and deflected awkwardly past Jody February into the net. An awful, soul-crushing way to concede the lead again at a time when AjaxCT were totally in control of the game. The Supersport commentators blamed the unfortunate Zwane for having his body positioned toward the goal, but realistically he had to stay out at the edge of the box with his man as the initial ball came it. It is probably more pertinent to ask why neither of two defenders could rise and get their head on the ball from what was nothing more that a hopeful long effort from way out wide.
For Amazulu’s first goal the ball initially broke to Mhlengi Cele outside the box after three AjaxCT players converged on a lose ball. None of them got the ball under control and it ricocheted to the Amazulu man who advanced on goal and shot into the far corner. A fine finish, but the ball passed through two defenders as it travelled toward the goal. Later in the game when Lakay had a similar opportunity for the visitors his shot was blocked by the defender rather than passing through the man. Is this bad luck? Lack of concentration? Football games at this level are won and lost on fine margins but as we can see from the sequence of awful away results the team has experienced there is a serious issue here that goes beyond the team not getting the run of the ball in any one particular game.
AjaxCT are now favourites to take the relegation play-off spot after the Amazulu defeat. The quality of opposition may be slightly lower but there will be two away fixtures to negotiate. Whether the issues the club has with away fixtures are mental, physical or administrative, we cannot be confident of avoiding defeat any time a game is played outside of Cape Town.
Mushin Ertugal has hinted at some of the reasons for this. He thought the team played too offensively at Golden Arrows and then tried to play a counter attacking game at Bloemfontein Celtic, where he thought the side conceded an unlucky goal. He complained about not having Ndoro available for the Amazulu game, but blamed him for missing an open goal away in Polokwane. There have been many personnel changes in these games (suddenly Mosadi returned from out of the wilderness on Tuesday night) and some formation changes. It all suggests a coach that may still not know his best side or formation, and this is being cruelly exposed on the road when that extra bit of organisation and concentration is required to earn points. The team in not being hopelessly outplayed and is not losing heavily. There is just enough on offer to keep supporters hopeful that things are about to change, but we have felt that way for so long now and the games are rapidly running out. Only Chippa United and Sundowns remain to be visited this season and we can all agree that points are unlikely in Pretoria. After winning just one away game last season, we are perilously close to going an entire season without a single away win. Any team with that record deserves to be fighting relegation.