What’s the worst thing about having a 24 day gap between matches? Is it the fact that the momentum from your 2 wins beforehand will inevitably have evaporated by your next game? Is it Emil Sambou starting a World Cup Qualifier for Gambia and being hooked after 45 quiet minutes, before his team triumphs over Ethiopia without him?
Or, and this is my vote, is it the fact that Nathan Gertse waits 20 days before damaging his foot and being ruled out for up to 3 weeks?
Oh well. The time has come for my very first SA KO Cup match and today we host Bidvest Wits. They’re a good side but I’d like to try and dominate today as the home side, so we’ll go with the controlling variant of Project: Foxy. I also want to give match fitness to a couple of the lads who need it. Left winger Sello Japhta, for example, has returned to full training but is lacking match fitness so he comes in for Aiden Jenniker. Unless he really impresses today though, Jenniker’s going back in for the next match as he’s had a good couple of games in Japhta’s absence.
Sullie also comes in replacing Carl Lark, and I’m giving Khat a run out up front. He deserves it for bearing with me so far this season. Captain Cele comes in replacing the injured Gertse at centre back and Ryan Moon replaces Richards to build his fitness back up after shaking off that bruised thigh.
A quarter of an hour into the match, Alexander backheels the ball to Myeni on the right side of our penalty area. Myeni crosses to the far post and Dutiro’s there to head the ball back across goal, but it’s so off target that it doesn’t even go out for a goal kick and ends up back with Myeni. He starts the routine again, picking Dutiro out at the far post, and this time Dutiro scrambles it into the net, but the linesman’s flag goes up against him and the goal doesn’t count.
With half an hour gone though, Hlanti runs down the left for Wits and drills a low cross into the 6 yard box, and Mkatshana’s there to tap it in. 1-0 Wits. I take the opportunity to encourage my lads to play quicker and run at the opposition defence. Our passes aren’t getting through their well organised defence as they’re standing off us and keeping their shape well.
On the stroke of half time, Japhta runs forwards with the ball. He squares it for Sullie, who takes it past Dutiro and passes to Sinbad in space. Sinbad moves forward to the edge of the box and shoots, but the ball flies comfortably over the bar. To be fair, at least they took my instructions on board. That’s the most dangerous we’ve looked so far.
7 minutes after the break, Hlanti swings a corner into the centre for Wits. Yende leaps to beat Japhta in the air, nodding the ball on for Mkatshana at the far post, who heads in their 2nd goal of the day. With very little to lose, I urge the team to attack to try and find a way back into the match.
5 minutes or so later, Dutiro powers forwards unchallenged through our half. He gets to the edge of the box and shoots wide, but I’m worried by how easily he exploited the space in the left side of central midfield there, so we change to a 4-2-3-1, with Gogotya coming on replacing the holding man Diale and slotting in alongside Sinbad. While we’re at it, I replace the once again quiet Sullie with Saileg Richards, who’ll play on the right wing with Moon coming inside to play behind Carl Lark, who replaces Khat.
With a quarter of an hour to go, we win a free kick on the edge of the box, just right of centre. Japhta hits it over the wall towards the right hand side of goal, and although the keeper gets a glove to the ball, he can’t stop it from rippling the back of the net. We’re back in the game.
As we enter the final 5 minutes, Japhta’s still trying to claw us level. He plays the ball inside for Ryan Moon 30 yards out, and the stand-in attacking midfielder runs towards goal, jinking past Miambo. He shoots towards the top right corner of the net but can’t quite find it. The ball flies inches wide.
The final whistle blows, confirming our exit from the SA KO Cup at the first hurdle. If I’m being perfectly honest, it wasn’t that much of a priority for me this year. The first thing I need to do realistically is make sure Santos don’t get dragged into a relegation scrap. Still though, it’s not a great feeling. Luckily, not many fans had to share that feeling with us as we attracted a record low attendance of 3,862 people to the game.
Now then, THIS is the real quiz. 3 days after our SA KO Cup exit we face Ajax CT at home in the league. There are quite a few layers to this match, the first one being that we’re on 13 points in the league and just 1 behind the top 2, so we could actually go top with a win. Ajax CT are trailing with just 9 points so far. The second layer is that Ajax CT are our fiercest rivals due to the 2 clubs’ close proximity. The clash is known as “The Old Cape Town Derby”, and I’m definitely not interested in losing my first derby.
The final and far more personal layer to this match is that letter. That fucking letter I received whilst managing GieKSa. Cast your mind back to the rejection letter addressed to “Mr WT Franco”. Straight from the desk of Ari Efstathiou, Chairman of Ajax Cape Town Football Club. I can just picture it now: After we kick Ajax’s arse on the pitch, I’ll shake the hand of the man who did get the Manager’s job, Serame Letsoaka, and then I’ll walk into the stands, straight up to Ari and I’ll say “Hey, Ari”. He’ll turn to see me, regret plastered all over his face, and I’ll say “It’s Franjo.” And then if I can arrange it in time, shades will just appear over my eyes and somebody will play a sick guitar sting as I walk through the ecstatic home fans, high fiving them as I go.
So that’s the plan for after the match, but what about on the pitch itself? Well, for one thing we’ll stick with the controlling variant of Project: Foxy. We’ll tweak it slightly though, going with a higher tempo and harder tackles. If this is a derby match I want to give these fans a derby match. I want it to be all action, blood and thunder. Japhta actually keeps his place ahead of Jenniker on the left as he was arguably our only player to have a good game against Wits. I also give Maloka a chance to wow me in place of Sullie, Sambou comes in for Khat, and Tlali comes in to make his first appearance of the season as Moe has sadly not found form yet.
Nearly 5 minutes after kick off, we’re looking good. We’re dominating these extremely early stages. And then Lebysa loops a cross into our box, over our goalkeeper Komo, and onto the bonce of Doutie, who cushions the ball into the net.
What happens next is no surprise. In fact, It’s becoming choreographed. Just over 10 minutes after we concede our first, Phohlongo plays in Chideu in our box, and he rolls the ball under Komo to make it 0-2. We’re capitulating and there’s so much more of the match still to play. After spending only a couple of months here, I fear for the mental fragility of my squad. It seems that we can be so quick to fold if we concede in the first half.
At half time, I give the team a good old fashioned bollocking. 0-2 down against our fiercest rivals, and we’ve got no chance of pulling it back. We aren’t even playing! 4 of the 5 shots that we’ve had were taken in our 5 minutes of dominance at the start! I tell them to pull their fingers out, get back down the tunnel and attack, attack, attack.
At the hour mark, they’ve done nothing of the sort, and my misery is almost compounded when Phohlongo squares the ball to Mdabuka on the edge of our box, and he leathers it against the bar.
I make some changes, bringing Gugu Gogotya and Sullie on for Japhta and Maloka. We change to a narrow 4-3-1-2 and I want the full backs bombing forwards on the overlap as we focus play through the centre.
With 13 minutes to go, I feel like I’m bashing my head against a brick wall. We’ve still offered nothing at all. Lark comes on replacing Sambou. 5 minutes later, Ajax go close again when Nyambi’s played in by Losper, but Komo parries his shot behind for a corner.
The last few minutes are a bit of a blur. First, the fourth official signals for a minimum of 2 minutes of stoppage time, then those minutes pass, then Ajax win a free kick 25 yards out, and then Doutie bends the ball into the top corner of our net. We finish my first Old Cape Town Derby match having had 7 shots, 4 of which were in the first 5 minutes. I’m really, really unimpressed.
I suppose we can take solace though in the fact that at 20,836, the match’s attendance was actually a record high for us. I wonder if we’ve just broken a record for breaking both attendance records in such quick succession.
But to be honest, it’s not much of a consolation. It’s back to the training ground for this lot, because we’ve obviously got a lot of work to do.