4 March 2009

AS if a stop-start period in which Maritzburg United’s Premier Soccer League game on the weekend against Wits University was rained out were not enough, the PMB team must put aside off-the-field distractions when they play Bay United in a crucial relegation encounter at the EPRU Stadium tonight.

United would have been raring to play Wits on Saturday and try to notch up three points at their home ground, where the Team of Choice have looked strong in recent matches with three wins out of two. Now they must lift themselves again, and ignore the distractions of a missing goalkeeper and link to a refereeing scandal, and pressurise Bay tonight.

The last-placed Port Elizabeth team have struggled with just one victory in their last nine matches. A 2-0 home win over Mamelodi Sundowns two weeks ago was not the revival Bay had hoped for and the PE side have gone on to successive away defeats against Ajax Cape Town (4-1) and Thanda Royal Zulu (1-0).

But make no mistake, the PE team have been putting up a fight in almost all their games, as any side will when so much is at stake in a multi-million rand league. United are likely to have to weather a storm in the windy city, and any victory or draw gained will need to be ground out.

And United have it all to play for. A victory over their one-time rivals for the First Division Coastal Stream title last season, would all but consign Bay to the last-placed automatic relegation spot. The PE team are a point behind second-last Bloemfontein Celtic and two behind Maritzburg, and defeat this evening would surely be too great a blow for Bay to bounce back from.

That in itself is motivation enough for United, never mind that Celtic are up against almost unstoppable Supersport United at the league leaders and defending champions’ daunting Super Stadium home ground in Atteridgeville tonight.

Bay have pulled in good crowds of close to 10 000 at EPRU stadium this season, where they have been at their most dangerous. Their good support has helped them not just beat Sundowns but also Orlando Pirates in the Eastern Cape this season, and coach Khabo Zondo said it is time for the side to pay back their fans.

“The players owe it to the people of the Eastern Cape and Port Elizabeth to get out and beat Maritzburg and give the club a lifeline for their survival in the PSL,” Zondo said.

Bay opted not to strengthen their squad significantly after winning promotion via the play-offs last season and, apart from sporadic victories over the big teams, have paid the price for that. Their dangerman is top scorer Jimmy Zakazaka, while the experience of Cyril Nzama and Patrick Mayo counts in defence, and Duran Francis marshals the midfield.

On paper Bay have the upper hand on the Maritzburg team, however, matches are won on hard turf, not on paper. It will take grit and determination for Maritzburg United to return from the Eastern Cape with points and Premiere League security.

Courtesy of the Witness/ Marc Strydom