Bloemfontein Celtic are determined to stop Kaizer Chiefs in their tracks and prevent Amakhosi from moving to the top of the Absa Premiership when the sides meet at the Seisa Ramabodu Stadium on Wednesday night.
“We would be able to open the league race and give others, including ourselves, a look-in if we beat Chiefs, so we are aware of what is at stake here,” said Celtic coach Clinton Larsen.
Chiefs will aim to leapfrog arch-rivals Orlando Pirates at the top of the standings. A win would see them go to the top with a better goal difference than the Buccaneers.
A victory for sixth-placed Celtic would see them close the gap on the leaders.
Bucs head the table on 32 points, followed by Mamelodi Sundowns on 31, Ajax Cape Town with 30 and Chiefs on 29.
Not even the return of star Chiefs winger Siphiwe Tshabalala from a short trial with English Championship clubs Nottingham Forest and Milwall is enough to worry an upbeat Larsen ahead of the crunch clash.
The match was originally scheduled to be played on Sunday but was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, and Tshabalala arrived home in time for the midweek game.
“We know that Shaba [Tshabalala], midfielder Tinashe Nengomasha and defender Punch Masenamela are back and are quality players, much like the rest of the Chiefs squad,” Larsen said.
“But that is no problem as we want to play the best and that will make a win over Chiefs more memorable.”
Nengomasha and Masenamela return after serving one-match suspensions.
Larsen said he was not worried about individual Chiefs players, including the likes of free-scoring Knowledge Musona and in-form Kaizer Motaung Jnr, if he is fit.
“We play Chiefs as a collective. I am not going to worry about individuals because the threat could come from anywhere,” Larsen said. “Chiefs are a hugely talented side and we will be on our toes. With a capacity crowd we will look to record a famous win.”
Larsen said the 1-1 draw at the same venue over Sundowns last Wednesday night had lifted morale.
“We performed well against Sundowns and should have won,” he said. “I want to show that was no fluke with a solid win over Chiefs.”
Celtic will be no pushovers and will be protecting their unbeaten home record.
Larsen and his side have grown in leaps and bounds since they played Chiefs in the opening league match of the season at the Rand Stadium. Amakhosi won that encounter 1-0 against a then-disjointed Celtic side.
The home team’s coach said he was not looking for revenge, but to set the record straight.
“We had problems with a slow start to the season because we had work permit problems and signed players who had not been regulars at their respective clubs,” Larsen said.
“It took time for the players to gel and settle in. Patience was the key and that is paying off now.”
Defending champions SuperSport United, who were in a slump but now appear to be on the road to recovery, will look to secure their third win in a row when they meet bottom side Mpumalanga Black Aces at the Puma Stadium in Witbank in Wednesday’s other fixture. — Sapa