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14 Dec 2009 14:16
Free State Stars have taken on a new lease of life under coach Gordon Igesund and will be defending their unbeaten away record when they meet unpredictable Orlando Pirates in their Absa Premiership showdown at the Orlando Stadium on Tuesday night.
Kick-off is at 7.30pm.
Stars are also unbeaten in their last five matches under their new coach, collecting nine points from those matches. The only blemish was a loss to neighbours Bloemfontein Celtic in Igesund’s first match in charge, but since then Stars have steadily improved; winning their last two fixtures and Igesund is confident of a top eight finish.
What Igesund has instilled in his players is self belief and a winning mentality.
Said the coach who has won four PSL titles with as many clubs: “When I arrived at Stars they had something like nine draws and had lost confidence in their ability to win games.
“That has changed.
Igesund is confident he can upset Pirates, a club he won the championship with in 2002. Pirates scored a lucky 1-0 win over Platinum Stars at the weekend, thanks to a dreadful mistake by referee Charl Theron and his assistant who incorrectly ruled a legitimate goal for Stars offside.
Igesund’s Stars will be hoping there will be no dodgy decisions from the match officials on Tuesday. Mistakes by referees who are struggling to cope with three matches per week are creeping into far too many games.
Bucs’ yo-yo form this season has put coach Ruud Krol under pressure. The ambitious Buccaneers are nine points behind leaders and defending champions SuperSport United, who have a match in hand, and Igesund knows what Krol is going through.
“There is always pressure on the coach at Pirates from all sides, including the supporters. But recently Pirates have shown they are vulnerable, they appear to lack confidence. We aim to capitalise on that.
“But having said that, Pirates are a quality side with some class individuals who can turn a game.
“This is going to be a tough match for us, but we go into it with a lot of confidence. I am not worried about Pirates as I reckon they should be concerned about us and the threat we will pose to them.”
Krol looked relieved after beating Stars at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Saturday and admitted: “We still have a problem scoring and we can do a lot better.”
But Krol’s team selections are part of the problem and it is up to him to bring back the confidence.
Krol knows that his masters demand success and success at Pirates means delivering the Premiership or the African Champions League.
Neither looks within their grasp, despite the Champions League only kicking-off in 2010. Failure at the end of this season could signal the end of the road for Krol.
Krol’s one problem will be to blunt Stars strikers such as Sthembiso Ngcobo, Tebelo Mofokeng and Aleni Lebyane. Igesund has got his attack firing again and they are brimming with confidence after back-to-back wins.
Krol’s biggest problem is his lack of punch in attack. Katlego Mashego, Terror Fanteni, Gert Schalkwyk and Thulasizwe Mbuyane are struggling for form and confidence and that is something he needs to address urgently.
In Tuesday’s other clash second placed Santos, who dropped further behind run away leaders and defending champions SuperSport with a 1-1 home draw against Golden Arrows on Saturday, play second bottom Mpumalanga Black Aces at Witbank’s Puma Rugby Stadium.
Santos, who are also nine points behind United with a game in hand, cannot afford to drop more points. It will be a crunch 90 minutes for struggling Aces who cannot afford another defeat which would entrench them as firm favourites to go back down to the National First Division.—Sapa
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