Mushin Ertugal has been correct to talk about pressure this week as we head toward the season defining fixture with Baroka on Tuesday. Defeat is unthinkable and with games running out, really only a win will keep our heads above water. Baroka were of course in the same position when they came to Cape Town at the end of last season and ruined the top half finish for Stanley Menzo. The tables have turned and now it is ourselves that must ruin their end of season party.
One factor in our favour is that, unlike last season, the fixture will be played at Athlone Stadium. The coach also pointed out that AjaxCT can rely on their strong home form. Incredibly only Orlando Pirates have a better home record home record than AjaxCT this season. There is a disparity within that home record that is worth dwelling on. In ten games at Cape Town Stadium this season the side has only averaged 1.1 points per game. At Athlone the side is averaging exactly 2 points per game. These are only small sample sizes – 10 games at Cape Town Stadium and 5 at Athlone – so this is by no means a definitive scientific survey. But the form guide suggests our best chance of victory lies at the Graveyard.
Cape Town Stadium is a fantastic modern venue and is a wonderful place to watch football or rugby, music concerts or any of the other activities it has hosted. However, there remains something special about watching football in the suburbs of the city closer to where most of the football loving football reside. Evening games can be particularly special, with anticipation rising as the floodlit ground is approached with the pink skies above the winelands mountains in the far distance. Residents of the city that have watched football here longer than me will no doubt have more memories of the dramas that have played out at the venue over the years. In the time since football has been split between here and the world cup stadium there do seem to have been more eventful games played here.
Back in the days when the Cape Derby was not such a hate filled battle of boardroom animosity there were exciting derby games played here against Santos. In 2011 there was a 4-3 win for AjaxCT that saw a fantastic late winner by Thulani Serero after the side had played almost an hour with ten men. Thulani Hlatshwayo had been sent off in the first half of a derby game that saw passion on the field of play instead of amongst the children in the dug-outs. Who can forget the cup victories at Athlone in the run to the Nedbank Cup final in 2015? Bidwest Wits were downed and then Supersport in a semi-final that saw the home side trailing going into the last five minutes. After Lebusa equalised we saw a late late injury time winner from Morris that brought the house down.
I just cannot recall such drama on the field at the world cup stadium. The surroundings are beautiful, the local hospitality is excellent, and the facilities are of course world class. In terms of games however it seems there have been far too many disappointments such as the Baroka failure last year, the ghost goal against the Cape Aces and all those other defeats, losing 5-1 at home to AmaTuks under Steklenberg, as well as what seems like a lifetime of dull performances under De Sa and Menzo. Perhaps this seasons 3-0 thumping of Pirates was AjaxCTs finest moment at the Cape Town Stadium.
With two home games left among the final three fixtures many supporters are backing the side to pick up at least 4 more points. It is not an unreasonable expectation given the strong home form. There are some problems to overcome of course. This includes the pressure of being in a continual ‘must-win’ situation as Ertugal has mentioned this week. It probably also includes the surface at Athlone which was already cutting up again in the last home fixture. There will have been more NFD games played on the grass before AjaxCT get to use it on Tuesday. Pitch maintenance is something that the Cape Town Stadium definitely does have over Athlone.
If the team can obtain four more points it will take them to 32, which in recent years has been enough to finish outside the bottom two places. Will it be enough this year? Will the team also need to pick up something from that final tough away game at Sundowns as well? It looks unlikely that will happen, with most pundits now assuming that AjaxCT will go through the season without a single away win. The last team to do that and still survive was Bloemfontein Celtic in 2009. They needed 33 points that season and still only just about survived on goal difference. If things do get that tight we are likely to be for an uncomfortable afternoon on the final day of the season.