Premiership’s nailbiting final stretch
It all comes down to 180 minutes of expected hard exchanges for both Bidvest Wits and Mamelodi Sundowns, the last two teams standing to decide who will walk home with the coveted 2016-2017 Absa Premiership championship.
Sadly, the most enterprising team of the year — rookies Cape Town City — bombed out of the race on Tuesday after taking an early lead against SuperSport United, only to commit unforgivable defensive errors for a 4-2 scoreline.
It has now become a two-horse race between pacesetters Wits and defending champions Sundowns, whose coach Pitso Mosimane seemed to play mind games with his counterpart at the Clever Boys.
“Let’s face it,” Mosimane chirped, “they [Wits] have a different objective to us. They are focused on the domestic league only and we have bigger fish to fry. We want to play in the CAF Champions League and Fifa World Club championship.”
It was clear that Mosimane was taking a dig at Wits coach Gavin Hunt with a subtle suggestion that the mentor of the Students deliberately bombed out of both Pan-African club competitions to focus on the domestic front.
“It is in their hands and it is up to them to lose it. If Wits win the league, there is nothing that we can do but to accept it. However, we will not give it up that easily. We are going to fight right up to the last match,” he said.
To his credit, Hunt has turned things around at Milpark and admits that, although Wits cannot compete with Sundowns in terms of their budgets, they have nonetheless been shrewd enough to assemble a quality team on the basis of what he described as a “free market”.
“We signed the majority of our players for free, like Daine Klate, Elias Pelembe, Cuthbert Malajila and Mogakolodi Ngele, but sold Sibusiso Vilakazi [to Sundowns] for a tidy sum and, yeah, we have also promoted a couple of youngsters and have not done badly,” he said.
Promoting talented youngsters has come at a cost. Two of them — Reese Frosler and Phakamani Mahlambi — were supposed to have travelled to Korea for the Fifa U-20 World Cup, but Wits held them back, to the chagrin of the South African Football Association.
A negotiated solution will now see the two join their under-20 teammates after the close of the season.
“Look, at this stage of the championship, it doesn’t really matter how you win, as long as you get the points. It can be a kind of smash and grab; the bottom line is to secure the points,” said Hunt.
Both frontrunners tripped up on Wednesday, with Wits losing to Free State Stars and Downs drawing with Baroka.
With only two points separating the two, this one is going down to the wire.
Wits are left with a winnable fixture against inconsistent Polokwane City at home on May 17 and then a tough encounter against rivals Kaizer Chiefs at the FNB to wrap up the season 10 days later.
Sundowns have a somewhat easier closing stretch and first up host Maritzburg United, a team they’ve not struggled to beat in the past 10 years.
The Brazilians complete their programme against Highlands Park, but in between play Ethiopian champions St George in a Champions League match in Pretoria.