We’re coming to a point now where I’m going to have to make a decision. I’ve already decided that I’m not going to leave Santos in the Summer unless I’m presented with an offer I can’t refuse, as I genuinely think that the only thing this club needs to be relatively big hitters is a change in attitude and a bit more quality. I’ve said a couple of times though that Philani Cele is probably not going to remain my captain beyond the end of the season if he stays at the club and vice-captain Moe will almost certainly be sold as soon as the window opens. Issouf Paro and Dino Visser have also worn the armband this season but the former’s shinbone is in more pieces than an exploded lego factory, leaving him in limbo in terms of how well he recovers and whether he’ll be a part of my plans, and the latter is consistently being kept out of the team by young Komo. So I need to choose who’s going to be our captain going forwards. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of giving the armband to a new signing until they’ve spent a while integrating into the team, so in the Summer I’ll most likely be choosing somebody that’s already on our books.
We’re playing Thanda Royal Zulu today, who are managed by former Charlton Athletic and South Africa striker Shaun Bartlett. I’m going to give someone new a chance to lead us out against Bartlett’s boys and I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that that someone is 19 year old Cameroonian prodigy Joseph Ekwalla.
If that’s not enough of a breath of fresh air for this stagnating team, I’m also handing a full debut to 17 year old Ernil Mobara, who’ll lead the line in place of Carl Lark, who went off the boil quite a while ago, 22 year old centre back Gary Havenga is back in for Moe with Gertse shifting across to right back and on the bench we have 15 year old playmaker Luke Fanteni, one of our latest batch of youth recruits.
12 minutes in we’re dominating TRZ and when Japhta’s corner is headed clear we win possession straight back through Diale. He plays a smart one-two with Japhta on the right wing and then whips in a cross for Ryan Moon, who powers a header past the keeper to put us ahead.
Instead of sitting back content with the lead, the team seems to smell blood. It’s no coincidence that within a minute of the goal, Captain Joe’s the man leading by example by driving forwards in search of a second. He lays the ball off for Japhta, who smashes it from the edge of the box and it cracks against the angle between post and bar before flying up into the air. Ernil Mobara leaps for the rebound but Mtebule gets there ahead of him and heads it clear. I like what I see though.
10 minutes later, we’re still in control. And what’s better is that we’re playing some nice football. Thoahlane receives the ball during one such move and plays a long ball into the Thanda box. The keeper comes out to claim the ball but he’s beaten to it by Sello Japhta, who sends a looping header into the unguarded net for 2-0.
This time, Thanda Royal Zulu come straight back at us less than a minute after kick off, breaking up one of our moves and starting a counter attack through Ngcepe, who brings the ball into our half. Sensing that their chance has finally arrived, the TRZ players all bomb up the field desperately, but that proves to be their undoing when Diale nicks the ball from Ngcepe and boots it over the defence for Mobara, who’s about 10 yards clear of the centre backs but is being played onside by their left back. The debutant Mobara brings the ball down, takes it into the box and chips it past the poor onrushing goalkeeper and into the top corner.
I’ve kept a respectful poker face so far so as not to rub it in for my opposite number, but that goal breaks my resolve. I leap to my feet grinning like a madman and punch the air in triumph as Ernil sprints away from goal, pointing both hands up to the sky. He runs straight over to the dugout and I give him a high five, before he’s mobbed by the other players, both playing and benched, in a flurry of hair ruffling and back patting. He’s off the mark on his full debut, and I couldn’t be more bloody proud.
The best part of it is that Ernil’s clearly not content with 1 goal. When we win a free kick 20 yards out a couple of minutes later he sends Japhta and Moon away and takes it himself, hitting it powerfully over the wall but against the post.
The last action in the first half comes just after the half hour mark when Captain Joe slides the ball behind the defence for Ryan Moon, who cuts it across from the right wing for Mobara, but even I can see that he’s 2 feet offside when he smashes in what he thinks is his 2nd debut goal. Sadly the score stays at 3-0.
My half time team talk gives itself. We’ve played probably the best half of football I’ve seen us play and I just tell them to keep it going. Evidently though, Shaun Bartlett makes a more convincing argument to his players because they come out the better team in the second half. Just after the hour mark, Matlokosi crosses well from the left byline and Bunting meets it at the far post, cushioning it down for Ngcepe, who hits it and forces an excellent reflex save from Komo. From the resulting corner, Samodien’s cross is met by Matlokosi and he heads it against the outside of the post and wide. I respond by implementing Project: Foxy Mk II to try and be a bit more solid.
A few minutes later though, TRZ threaten a comeback when Ngcepe slots the ball through for the danger-man Matlokosi, who places it in Komo’s top corner from 8 yards to pull one back.
It doesn’t last long though. With 13 minutes to play an extremely controlled and patient passing move from Santos culminates with Sello Japhta playing a through ball for Mobara, who slams the ball into the bottom corner to make it 4-1. As well as being incredibly happy for him though, I’m suddenly gutted that he was stood offside the 2nd time he stuck the ball in the net. He would’ve had a professional debut hat trick if not for that!
I bring on defensive midfielder Junaid Mobara, left winger Manqoba Cele and attacking midfielder Luke Fanteni for the last 10 minutes in place of Diale, Japhta and Sinbad. It’s a nice luxury to be able to give these youngsters a bit of time and not one that I’m allowed very often, so I enjoy watching them play. We nearly make it 5-1 in the 89th minute when Ekwalla plays a one-two with Ernil Mobara before striking the ball from the edge of the box and hitting the bar. The ref blows to signal full time and we’ve been on the right end of a drubbing for once. It feels bloody great.
That’s what we need. That’s exactly the kind of pick-me-up we’ve been crying out for. We just have a couple of bits of admin to take of before we take this swagger into the next match against Bloem Celtic. First of all, to save me the headache, I’m going to refer to Ernil Mobara our debutant goalscorer as “Ernie” and Junaid Mobara, the promising defensive midfielder as “Juno”.
Secondly, after young Luke made a cameo debut, he’s set a Santos FC record as the youngest ever played to wear our shirt in a professional match, clocking in at 15 years and 356 days. He’s got potential, that lad.
And finally, Komo’s now played 20 games for us, which means he’s getting a bit of a wage bump. Well in, Komo.
Unfortunately we’ll be the victims of his success as we host Bloem Celtic though, because he’s been called up to South Africa’s U20 squad again and will miss our match. Nevertheless we’ll get by without him and it’ll be worth it in the long run for him to get the experience and confidence boost that comes with an International youth team call up. Dino Visser will replace him in our lineup and will take the armband so that I can have another look at how it fits him.
The first half is not much of a spectacle. The 2 teams square up and patiently test each other. It’s about 7 minutes after half time when things get interesting, kicked off by a comedy of errors from the Santos defence. First Zulu strays way away from his designated position, then Thoahlane covers for him, getting the ball from the left back position and dwelling on it for far too long. Nyondo sees this and immediately nips in to steal the ball away on our right wing. He crosses the ball into the centre for Chapman, who’s in acres of space after strolling casually away from his marker Havenga, and puts it past Visser easily from close range. I am displeased.
With half an hour to go I withdraw Zulu and Ernie, replacing them with Jenniker and Lark, and with 17 to play I complete my substitutions with the introduction of Gugu Gogotya in place of Diale.
With 10 minutes to go we finally kick into gear. Ekwalla springs Moon with a good ball through the defence. Moon shoots first time but Msibi parries the ball away. Japhta gets to the rebound though and slots it into the mostly empty net to equalise.
We barely have time to celebrate though. With 5 minutes to play, Zuma finds Nyondo on the right wing and he chips a cross into the centre once more. This time, Mathosi powers a header past Visser to regain his side the lead, and indeed the win.
I’d love some consistency and I’d love to have a run of games between the frustration headaches instead of them being a core part of my Saturday night routine. Nevertheless, winning felt really good however temporary the feeling might’ve been and Ernie’s given me some food for thought for the future, as too have Juno, Fanteni and potential future Santos captain Joseph Ekwalla.