Moroka Swallows are determined to put their poor run of form behind them when they play a rejuvenated Mpumalanga Black Aces in the first round of the Telkom Knockout at the Dobsonville Stadium on Wednesday night. Kick-off is at 8pm.
The Birds shone in the recent MTN8 competition by reaching the final, but have only collected one point from their five Premiership matches played so far.
And the players know they have to do better.
“We have to buckle down and start winning. We are lacking confidence and maybe our inexperience is showing as there is no substitute for experience,” said Birds skipper Lefa Tsutsulupa on Monday.
The hardworking midfielder is returning to action after a three-month lay-off with a bad groin injury.
“I am not fully fit. I sat on the bench against Kaizer Chiefs last week [Birds lost 1-0] but hopefully I can play 20 or 30 minutes if needed.
“I want to play my part and help the club get over this bad spell, but I am not ready for 90 minutes. It is going to be a long hard road for me to get my fitness back.”
Birds striker Shaun Haschick said the buck stops with the strikers.
“We need to go out against Aces and start scoring goals and get the club out of this quagmire.”
Haschick admitted part of the Birds’ goal-scoring problem in the league has been the injury to star striker Siyabonga Nomvethe and the inability of other strikers to step up and fill the veteran former Bafana Bafana striker’s boots.
“This is an opportunity for us to shine,” said Haschick. “I am determined to hit form and help Swallows turn the corner. It is a challenge the players are determined to meet head on.
“Aces have just come through a similar bad patch and are on the road to recovery. There is a lot at stake in this game as a win would not just see us through to the quarterfinals, but would also be a massive confidence booster for the whole club.”
Birds coach Rainer Zobel said he had faith in Haschick and fellow striker Auguston Leonard to help the team get out of its hole and he would persevere with them.
“We have the quality in the squad. The problem is we are not scoring and we have lost confidence. We need to win and start restoring that confidence,” said Zobel.
Low on confidence
Haschick agreed that confidence was low, but a win at home against Aces would be the tonic needed to reverse the poor run.
Aces have turned their poor start to their season around, thanks to new coach Neil Tovey. After three defeats, management axed Aki Ayiomamidis and hired Tovey, who has sorted out a leaky defence after a 2-2 home draw against Vasco da Gama.
In his second match in charge, Aces scored a stunning 1-0 away win over MTN8 champions Orlando Pirates last week.
Tovey said Pirates made a mistake by underestimating his side, but promised they would not make that mistake against Swallows.
Aces’ newcomer, defender Marco da Silva — a former Pirates junior — said the Birds have more to lose: “They have everything to lose against us so they will have to come at us and we need to be on our toes.”
Da Silva, a hard-running right back, has a massive throw-in, which could cause the Birds defenders plenty of trouble. ‘I never practised these throw-ins — it came naturally and now it can be used to our advantage on attack.”
In the other Telkom Knockout match on Wednesday, Ajax Cape Town play Free State Stars at the Athlone Stadium. Kick-off is at 7.30pm. — Sapa