Sometimes you need to face the music and admit that you did something that turned out to be a mistake. At the beginning of this year, a book called “How to Watch Football” by Ruud Gullit convinced me that signing Khat and using him as a Libero was a good idea. As it turns out, it wasn’t, and for that I apologise on behalf of Ruud Gullit. Writing that book was clearly a mistake and we all really deserve an apology from him.
I’m only kidding. It was my call and it was a bad one, but I don’t regret it and I don’t blame myself for the same reason that I don’t blame the creators of Scrubs for making a ninth season: If you don’t try these things, how are you going to find out what works, what doesn’t work and what retroactively ruins the entire show and shits on a perfectly good ending?
I mention this now because this bold new style that blew up in my face and a subsequent lack of football has turned out to be enough to convince Khat to call time on his career. His contract was due to expire in the Summer and he’s decided that Santos FC will be his last club.
Cheers Khat, thanks for only complaining when I stopped playing you and not when I was crowbarring you in behind the centre backs. I also convince Goolam Allie to fund a National B License coaching course for him while he’s still with us, because quite honestly I feel bad.
Speaking of people falling out of favour with me, we have a problem: Both Santos FC left backs are absolutely awful. Aiden Jenniker, the strongest on paper, had a promising start to the season but has since been patchy at best. I didn’t expect much from Siyabonga Zulu, but he’s somehow managed not to even live up to that level of expectation. The only good games he has are when he has absolutely nothing to do and that’s not good enough. Jenniker’s suspended for our next match away at Chippa United after picking up 4 yellows and I’m dropping Zulu after he was noticeably absent in the build up for both of Bloem Celtc’s goals last week, both of which came down his wing.
“Franjo you zany bastard, Santos don’t have another left back! How are you dropping them both?” You might hysterically ask after slapping your gawping, shocked and confused face with both hands simultaneously, Kevin McCallister style. Well I have a plan.
You know how I often use centre backs as full backs? It’s not a choice thing, it’s out of necessity. What if we could have a swashbuckling attacking full back? What if we already do? What if he’s been here the whole time, right under all of our noses? It dawned on me the other day when I was speaking to Sello Japhta and he told me how he had indeed sparingly played at wing back during his career. “How about full back?” I asked, and here we are. Sure he’s rusty, but I don’t mind him messing up or making mistakes at this point in the season. We’re winding down to a safe, boring, bottom half finish and nothing’s really going to change that. I start training Sello as a full back and he’ll start there today for the Chippa match too. Manqoba Cele will make his full debut on the left wing, but otherwise we line up with our standard Project: Foxy Mk II, with Ernie also brought out for a rest and Carl Lark restored up front. I’m quite excited.
4 minutes in Joseph Ekwalla, captain for the day again, finds Carl Lark and the overly eager striker has a pot shot from way out on the right wing. Unfortunately it’s off target and hits the side netting, because obviously.
They try again a few minutes later, with Ekwalla playing a brilliantly precise long ball up to Lark. He takes the ball to the edge of the box and shoots, but again it’s off target, this time flying wide.
After 20 minutes I encourage the lads to try to work the ball patiently into the box, to put a stop to the pot shots.
With 10 minutes of the first half to go, Langwe passes short to Manganyi from a Chippa free kick. The young midfielder turns and plays in Ngobe behind the defence, who curls the ball beautifully into the bottom corner to put the hosts ahead.
With half time looming, Chippa continue to push us, but just before the 45 minute mark Ekwalla breaks up one of their attacks and plays a lovely ball onto the right wing for Ryan Moon. He bursts down the right flank and crosses when he gets to the byline, chipping the ball in at the perfect height for Carl Lark to run onto, but he heads straight at Daniel in net, who catches the ball easily.
Just to drive home the message that this might not be our day, within a minute Ace Sali sets up Mbenyane just inside our penalty area and he aptly drives the ball home into the bottom corner.
The second half is no better. I bring on Ernie for Lark with 20 minutes to go and he hits the post with a header from another Moon cross a few minutes later. Juno then replaces Diale to little effect and with 5 minutes to go Joseph Ekwalla damages his foot. The game ends 0-2 and again I’m displeased.
Joe will miss 11-14 days with his damaged foot, which isn’t ideal with mathematical safety within reach. I call a team meeting to tell the team to get us the extra 2 points we need with minimal fuss. The majority of the Santos players however feel that I’m under appreciating our good position and think that I should be giving them more credit than just saying “Get it done”, so in trying to rally them together I manage to actually split the changing room, which is just fantastic.
And in the end I needn’t have bothered. Before we actually get to our match away at Orlando Pirates, Highlands Park lose their match 0-3 against Maritzburg and in doing so confirm our safety on 27 points, as they’re 15th and with their remaining 3 matches the most points they can possibly accrue is 25. Morale in our dressing room is still rock bottom though, so I make a mental note to look at the fixture list before holding my next team meeting, because I’ve fucked that right up.
Anyway, with safety confirmed, we land in Johannesburg a partially relieved but divided team. Morale and fitness are both issues for a few players, but Sony Norde is at least fit enough for a spot on the bench. Gugu Gogotya replaces Joe Ekwalla in the starting line up, giving our central midfield a sense of extra defensive solidity, and I begrudgingly bring Jenniker back in for Manqoba Cele, restoring Japhta back to the left wing. I’m going to keep training him as a left back though as you never know when an attacking full back’s going to come in handy.
10 minutes in, Qualinge bursts through the middle of the pitch and powers straight through our midfield, but shanks his shot well wide from 20 yards.
He tries again a couple of minutes later, this time cutting in from the left wing. This time Gertse robs him of the ball though and hoofs it long. Just like that it’s us who are threatening as Lark gets behind the centre backs and runs through on goal, before stabbing the ball beyond the keeper and into the bottom corner.
5 minutes later the Pirates should equalise when Nyauza gets his head to Rakhale’s corner at the near post, but he only manages to direct the ball against the angle.
We take our well earned 1-0 lead into the changing room at half time and I tell the boys to just keep it going. Apart from that header we’ve kept them to half chances, although we’ve not created much apart from the goal. 10 minutes after the break Gogotya’s surrounded on the ball by Orlando players and is pressed into losing possession. Orlando put together a good passing move and eventually get it out on the right for Happy Jele, who whips a cross in for Ndoro, who heads in the equaliser.
Another 10 minutes pass and all we can muster is a pot shot into the side netting from Moon, who’s so far out on the right wing he’s practically taking a corner. At the other end we’re being put under more and more pressure so I bring on Sony Norde, half fit as he may be, for Japhta. He may provide another outlet that we can use to break Orlando’s spell of dominance.
A few minutes later their substitute Baloyi dribbles to the right byline and gets a cross in. The ball gets all the way through to Qualinge at the far post, who has the goal gaping as Komo struggles to get over from the other post, but somehow he puts it wide. We get away with that one.
They keep the pressure on. A few minutes from time, Qualinge is in the thick of it again; This time squaring the ball for Motupa, who dribbles towards goal and shoots from 20 yards, but Komo catches it easily. I bring on Phil Cele for Moon and drop us back to a 4-1-4-1 in the hopes that it’ll help us hold on.
And then in injury time it happens: Matlaba hits the left byline and gets a cross in. Ndoro meets it with his head and hits the bar from close range, and in the blink of an eye the ball bounces back down and Baloyi half volleys it into the net. It’s a gutting moment until my eyes pan over to the linesman on the far side of his pitch, flag raised against the goalscorer. Good lad. 1-1 it ends.
It’s a decent point, that. Orlando are a good team and they should’ve beaten us really as they were the better side. But I’ll take that and now we’re on the home straight, with only 3 games remaining before the end of the season, the summer, and the shake up.