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Pitso’s gamble fails to pay off

After months of being so right, Pitso Mosimane has proved he is capable of getting the big decisions wrong.

Rewind to the PSL awards at the end of May and there was palpable disinterest when the nominations of Milutin Sredojevic and Fadlu Davids were read out for coach of the season. Sure, they had both turned an aircraft carrier around, but this was Pitso; the man building a dynasty and a true enemy of failure. Everyone in the building knew he was going to win before they buttoned up their tuxes that night.

READ MORE: How analysis took over the PSL

This week he got it wrong. He rolled the dice and snake eyes stared back at him. His moves were forced by fixture congestion —as is the norm in recent years, Brazilian butter has been spread across many slices of competition, proving particularly thin in the past few days. Two draws, one loss, out of the CAF Champions League and much to do in the MTN8.

It’s the latter competition that represents an opening for a high to still bubble to the top in this period.

Mosimane’s gamble to rest much of his team almost worked out in the first leg against Cape Town City on Saturday. It wasn’t until the 76th minute that Taariq Fielies took advantage of set-piece disorganisation to drill home the only goal of the game. Ayanda Patosi should have doubled that less than 10 minutes later but, receiving the ball free in the box, couldn’t steer it past Sundowns backup Kennedy Mweene.

A 1-0 aggregate is about as good a result as Mosimane could have expected after clearly indicating that the game wasn’t a priority. Sibusiso Vilakazi, Jeremy Brockie, Hlompho Kekana, Gastón Sirino and Themba Zwane were among the notables rested.

In a competition that teams such as City and SuperSport United take incredibly seriously, those casual attitudes to selection are a death sentence. Given that Sundowns will finally get a rest after this weekend, we should expect a more determined response in Sunday’s second leg at Loftus.

Securing that final has added importance now, with the break given to the stars unable to sharpen the blade intended for Horoya on Tuesday. The Ghanaian champions packed their box and expeditiously dealt with any attempts to play the ball inside the six-yard area. Sirino criminally scuffed a shot in front of goal, but otherwise those in yellow failed to make space for themselves in the area.

This blunted creativity has been a recent theme. Mosimane had no answers for the stubbornness of Highlands Park the previous Wednesday, where his side struggled to fashion anything of note.The frustration took root in Ricardo Nascimento’s brain as he managed to talk himself into a red card. In truth, a player of his experience should know better than to remonstrate so excessively. Nil-nil — not a terrible result in the context of the way the league has begun, but the squad would have expected better of themselves.

These goalless score lines are surely beginning to heighten whatever frustrations Mosimane has with Brockie. The New Zealander, signed in January, was predicted to click straight into action in his first full season, but so far has failed to score in his new shirt, spurning many an opportunity along the way.

READ MORE: Tau, Mosimane scoop top honours at PSL awards

After losing Percy Tau and Khama Billiat, it’s clear Mosimane expected the man he himself nicknamed “Sniper” to recapture the form for which he was persuaded to swap Pretoria teams in the first place. That gamble has so far failed. Inventive new signing Lebohang Maboe, meanwhile, sat firmly on the bench until the 79th-minute against Horoya.

Had Sundowns progressed to the Champions League knockout stages for the third straight year, we would all likely be praising Mosimane’s ability to manage his team in the midst of a barrage of games. But they didn’t, and instead the man whose wagers have yet to yield results will be under scrutiny. Sunday’s MTN8 class against a combative Cape Town City now appears an intriguing affair. Two competitions lost in five days will not look good—even for the best coach in the country.

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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