At the end of the season the final table does not lie. This is one of the unwritten laws of football. You can have easy draws in a cup run or a lucky escape in a one-off game, but over a full season of home and away fixtures you finish where you deserve to. This is the brutal truth that faces AjaxCT right now. Despite the fighting spirit shown in this final run in, even the most die hard AjaxCT fan must accept the position the club has finished in is deserved. The shocking away form has prevented the club ever putting together a decent run of results and although there are many off-field issues that will no doubt be discussed in the weeks to come, the on-field performances have just not been good enough. It is that simple.
I was one of many that thought that – despite the quality of the opposition – the team would take advantage of having their fate in their own hands on Saturday. Despite the fighting spirit on display from the home side it was Chiefs that always had that extra bit of quality in most areas of the pitch. In a game that became incredibly open as both teams chased a win it was the keepers that stood out and both men kept the score down with several fine saves. He will be bitterly disappointed of course, but on reflection Jody February can be proud of what was probably his best performance in an AjaxCT shirt. He has improved massively compared with the nervous performance that Supersport’s Farouk Kahn was so critical of against the same opposition in last years fixture. Well done Jody, and of course it is a great tribute to the development that this club remains capable of, despite its on-field problems.
The rest of the match must have been incredibly exciting for the neutrals at home, but it was almost unbearable for those of us with something at stake in the stands. Perhaps we can argue that we were unlucky on the day, maybe we went for broke by throwing players up front too early. Would we have broken chiefs down with a more conventional formation after the equaliser, while not giving so much away at the back? With Booysen playing up front there were times when we had just two men left to deal with the oncoming Chiefs forwards. When the chance came with the ball headed down to him in front of goal, the central defender got the ball stuck under his feet with the goal at his mercy and the golden opportunity was lost. Not his fault of course. It is not really his role in the side. He was only there as an emergency measure due to the dire circumstances, but it is such moments that will have kept fans, players and club officials awake overnight.
It seems to be one of the topics that we discuss every year, but the PSL allows a second chance through the play-offs. Honestly, it still feels unfair even though it remains our only chance right now. The English used to do this when they first introduced play-offs and the French have recently introduced a relegation play-off between the 18th placed Ligue 1 team the 3rd placed Ligue 2 side. The PSL is not alone in offering this relegation escape clause. But will the AjaxCT team that we last saw down on their knees at the final whistle be able to take advantage?
It was clear from Mushin’s interview after the game that everything had been focused on the Chiefs game and no thought had been given to the potential play-offs. That is understandable of course, but the side has to pick themselves up quickly because they now travel to Limpopo on Wednesday to face Black Leopards. It could not be a more difficult scenario for a team with just one away win in all competitions over the last two years. We could argue that it would be a more reasonable schedule to have the two NFD teams contest the first fixture given that they have had a week and a half out of action. In fairness, we should however just be grateful that there is any chance at all to recover our PSL status.
Is this just going to be a few more weeks of prolonging the agony of an awful season or a genuine chance for redemption? I would love to be optimisitic but given how the players must feel right now and given the long journeys for a side that just cannot win away from home I would not be willing to bet on success. I know everybody likes to have some positives first thing on a Monday morning so let’s just remember that there remains a level of quality in the AjaxCT squad that the NFD sides do not have. They also have to come to Cape Town where our home record is the second best in the country. There has been an abundance of fighting spirit in recent weeks and given a second chance I cannot see any of this squad giving up right now. No heads went down on Saturday even when the second Chiefs goal went in late on. If the side can avoid defeat this week and then win the home games we could be in for another nail biting afternoon when the trip to Jomo Cosmos rolls round on June 2nd. As if Saturday was not tense enough – let’s do it all again.