/ 21 October 2011

Downs can up their game

If ever there was an important lesson for Moroka Swallows to learn from their embarrassing 4-0 pasting at the hands of Mamelodi Sundowns in Atteridgeville a few weeks ago, it was that when you get your opponent on the ground, finish him off.

The two teams will face each other in what will certainly be the match of this weekend’s Telkom Knockout ­fixtures at Dobsonville Stadium on Saturday. Swallows coach Gordon Igesund admitted that the 4-0 loss taught them valuable lessons on how to finish off an opponent when you have him on the ropes.

“That defeat was not a true reflection of the game,” he said this week.

“It was a game of two halves. We ran them off the park in the first half and hit the post twice.

“We had two one-on-one situations with Siyabonga Nomvethe failing to capitalise on both occasions.”

But Sundowns stepped up a gear in the second half and as Swallows committed more men forward they were exposed in a counterattack and punished in a 16-minute blitz that yielded four goals — two by Katlego Mphela, one by Teko Modise and a wonder strike by Musa Nyatama.

“We learned from the mistakes of that day,” said Igesund. “We have since gone unbeaten and ­collected 13 out of a possible 15 points in our last five matches.

“We know a Cup competition is different to a league match where, if you commit a single mistake, you get knocked out. But we are now better equipped than we have ever been.”

‘Smart signings’
Swallows made a few smart signings at the beginning of the season, bringing in Joseph Makhanya, Bennett Chenene, David Mathebula and Mpho Maleka, to mention just a few. Igesund believes he has assembled a squad capable of finishing in the top eight.

“We have two players for each position,” said Igesund. “I want Swallows to play the type of football that will be reminiscent of the Swallows of old.

“We have struck the right balance and there is more self-belief in the team, as well as a desire to do well.”

Yet, although Swallows have attained a balance, Sundowns still seem to be still searching for that missing ingredient.

There is no doubt about the quality of their squad, but former Dutch star and now coach of the “Brazilians” Johan Neeskens does not seem to have hit the nerve centre that would enable his troops to play the ­free-flowing “tika-taka” Barcelona way he is advocating at Chloorkop.

For a team of such quality, little wonder they have discarded players like Esrom Nyandoro, Ginger Zothwane, Koketso Mmotong, Lucky Nguzana, Tshepo Ramokala and Edwardo Ferreira — and Richard Henyekane has become a bit-part player.

Perhaps Neeskens wants to impose his philosophy on Downs by ­switching a natural playmaker like Surprise Moriri to a holding role. And whereas Moriri has not done badly in his new role, the result is that the team lacks someone to drive them forward.

They do not seem to have someone capable of creating chances and taking charge, someone in the mould of Ernest Chirwali, Zane Moosa, Jazzy Queen Legodi, Ace Khuse, Harris Chueu, Alex Bapela or even Godfrey Sapula who, when the chips were down, would raise their hands and be counted.

And with the crafty Moriri restricted, winger Elias Pelembe is their only creative force. Nyatama and Modise can fulfil the play-making role, but they are often conspicuous by their inability to impose their authority on a game.

The Sundowns transition play from midfield to the last third of the field is another concern that Neeskens needs to rectify soon because it results in Mphela being starved of the ball. And once “Killer” cannot find ammunition, he naturally fails to fire those deadly bullets.

Kaizer Chiefs coach Vladimir Vermezovic has shown that big names count for nothing in his book as he benched most of his senior players last week, but still managed to snatch maximum points against Black Leopards at the Peter Mokaba Stadium.

Yet, whether he will have the guts to tackle Platinum Stars in their Telkom Knockout encounter at Moruleng Stadium on Sunday without Jimmy Tau, Josta Dladla, Lehlohonolo Majoro and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, among others, remains to be seen as they start the defence of the only title they won last year.

The youngsters Vermezovic threw out last week came to the party, but they could come unstuck against a Platinum Stars outfit that blasted Santos 4-1 and have the ­reputation of having eliminated them from the same competition a few years ago.