“We’ve been unlucky in our last couple of matches”, I say sympathetically to the team. “We got robbed of 2 points against Golden Arrows. We were by far the better side. And but for that ‘goal’ against Supersport we would have picked up a point against them too.”
It feels like one of those moments in a season where we just need something to go in our favour. We just need a little luck or a win and we’ll hopefully be able to put together a run. After all, we’re playing well enough since we switched to Project: Foxy. Of course, what doesn’t help today is that we’re going to be without one of our key players. Although Sello Japhta’s yet to really get going this season, it’s frustrating to hear that he’s suffered an abdominal strain and will miss the next 2 weeks.
Nevertheless, the show must go on. Mthatha Bucks are our opponents today and I’ll be tweaking my personnel slightly for this one. Obviously Japhta’s injured, so I’m going to give our left back Aiden Jenniker a try on the left wing, with Siyabonga Zulu replacing him at the back. I think that Jenniker on the left may actually benefit us as his defensive inclination should balance out Ryan Moon’s gung-ho play style. Elsewhere, Sullie will take the number 10 spot at Khat’s expense, and Carl Lark will get a long overdue run out ahead of Emil Sambou up front. We focus down the right wing. It’s all on you, Ryan Moon.
35 minutes into a quiet first half, Ryan Moon pulls up clutching his thigh. I let out a long sigh. I know it’s early in the Season, but he’s been by far our most dangerous player, so I’m pretty torn. Do I sub him off as a precaution with the game still tied and perhaps leave us short going forwards, or do I keep him on and risk aggravating his injury? After much deliberation, Moon stays on. I keep my fingers crossed for the next 10 minutes until the ref blows his whistle to signal half time.
It’s been a nothing game so far played out by 2 equally ineffective teams. I keep my team talk simple, just encouraging the lads to keep going.
It takes less than 2 minutes of the second half for us to win a central free kick just outside the box, and for who else but Ryan Moon to curl the ball into the top left corner. I’ve not felt the embrace of my vindication blanket for quite some time, but it’s as warm and comforting as ever as I watch Ryan sprint away and get mobbed my the rest of the team.
10 minutes later, Sinbad receives the ball, looks up and sees Moon making a typically dangerous run down the right flank. Sinbad plays an absolute beauty of a pass over the Mthatha Bucks defence into the winger’s path and he takes it down, but his angle is narrow and Hoffman parries his shot across goal and away.
With 20 minutes to go, I hand a debut to young attacking midfielder Sakhile Maloka, who comes on in place of Sullie. You may remember he briefly impressed in pre-season, scoring in 2 consecutive friendly matches. Maloka’s a promising little player, and I mean that literally. At 5’4 he’s not going to win many aerial duels, but he’s 2 footed, skilful, and extremely comfortable on the ball.
I do eventually replace Ryan Moon for the last 10 minutes, bringing captain Cele on to help shut the game down on the right side of a defensive 4-1-4-1. We do so. I’ve no problem scraping 3 points while we’re getting going, and a first clean sheet for Komo is a great bonus.
Unfortunately, Ryan Moon only has a 50:50 chance of making it back in time for our next match away at Polokwane City. His bruised thigh may keep him out of this game, but on the upside he’ll certainly be back for the one after. Keenon Blignaut is back in full training, but I’m sure he won’t be too pleased when he finds out that he’s now slipped to 3rd in the goalkeeper pecking order.
The match against Polokwane City does indeed come around too quickly for Ryan. I stick him on the bench in case we’re desperate, but Saileg Richards starts in his place. Khat also comes back in for Sullie as I continue to wait for someone to claim the attacking midfielder spot for themselves by putting in a decent performance.
It takes a quarter of an hour for us to see any kind of noteworthy chance, but unfortunately it’s at the wrong end of the pitch. Khumalo hits a central free kick towards the right side of our goal and Komo does well to tip the ball onto the post, before catching it at the second time of asking.
With a few minutes to go before the ref calls time on quite a mundane half of football, Sekela Gajana leaps to challenge Khat for a header just inside our half. He’s already on a yellow card and blatantly handles the ball, earning himself a red. Now at this point I’m eager to actually capitalise on this advantage, especially as we were unable to do so when faced with a similar situation in our match against Golden Arrows. Polokwane City change to a narrow 4-3-1-1, so we push our fullbacks up and exploit the flanks.
When half time arrives, the game’s still deadlocked at 0-0, so we go on the attack for the second half, although after 15 more minutes of football, Polokwane change to a more solid 4-4-1 system, seemingly happy to try to hold on for the draw. We respond with a 4-1-1-4 system, hoping to overload their defenders with our 4 attacking players.
With 20 minutes to go, we finally start clicking. Saileg Richards crosses in well from the right wing and Khat takes the ball down on his chest, before slipping a pass through for Aiden Jenniker. The stand-in left winger takes a shot, but he snatches at it badly and the ball trickles wide of the far post.
Shortly afterwards, Issouf Paro picks up a slight chest injury, so I take the opportunity to make a triple substitution. Cele, Sambou and the half-fit Ryan Moon, or “Half Moon”, come on replacing Paro, Lark and Richards. It’s a risk for Moon, but the injection of quality, leadership and experience may just be worth it.
With under 10 minutes to go, the ball goes out for our throw in on the right hand side of Polokwane’s penalty area. Moe throws the ball in to Sinbad, who slides it down the line first time for Moon. Moon cuts the ball in first time to the edge of the box and for a minute it looks like nobody’s there. But then, arriving late from the left is Siyabonga Zulu. The rampaging left back takes it on his right foot and shoots towards the far bottom corner – And scores!
My hands are in the air before I know what’s happening, and they stay there until the final whistle blows. We’ve done it. We’ve scraped it again, but we’ve won. The comparisons to a poor man’s Tony Pulis have been thrown at me a fair amount so far in my short career, but I don’t care. As much as I once berated a Portuguese Championship team for their Pulis-esque brand of negative football, I’ll settle for boring 1-0 wins all season thank you very much.
There’s still work to be done, don’t get me wrong, but at the minute we sit 3rd in the league, Komo’s starting to keep clean sheets and we’re picking up points. That’ll do just fine for now.