I step onto the team bus outside the Athlone to the usual mutters of “Morning Boss” and smile very Englishly around at the squad before making my way to my seat at the front. As I do I glance over at Komo and he gives me a smile and a nod. I smile back. Good lad. I charged him after the last training session with speaking to Eliphas Thoahlane, who’s pretty unhappy that I’ve not given him any game time so far this season. It’s fair enough really, but it looks like Komo’s talked the young defender down for the moment.
I’ll be honest, my mind’s only half on our visit to Polekwane City today. The draw for the Quarter Final of the South African Knock Out Cup was made yesterday and we’ve been given a home match against Supersport United, which will be our next game after this one with an 11 day break in between. Supersport beat us 0-1 and 0-3 last season and will no doubt give us a tough test, but I can’t let myself think about it now. That’s what the break’s for.
We beat Polekwane City 1-0 in this fixture last year and drew 0-0 in the reverse fixture. They were both very even matches so just like Wednesday’s dramatic Cup Win against Mthatha Bucks I’ll be looking for signs that we’re improving today. We’ll set up with Project: Meatloaf and Japhta and Masango will come in replacing Zulu and Baliso, whose chest injury midweek will keep him out for a couple of weeks. Some other players are still a bit knackered after we took our last match to 120 minutes but with the 11 day break I mentioned looming, we stay otherwise unchanged and they can recuperate afterwards.
With a quarter of an hour played, my changes down the left work like a charm. Masango cuts inside and gives the ball to Joël, creating acres of space for Japhta to run into down the line. Soumahoro picks the wingback out with a great pass and he drills a cross in first time, which Aidir meets and pokes into the net. 1-0 to the People’s Team.
There’s still definitely a balance on the left that I haven’t found yet though. Japhta’s obviously not a natural defender and misses an interception a couple of minutes later, leaving Nkondo free to get to the byline and whip a cross onto the head of Seoketsa, who nods the ball against the post from close range.
Polekwane keep going though and with 8 minutes to go before the break, Khanyeza swings a corner into the box. Fielies cushions the ball down and Phungwayo powers in the equaliser on the half volley. At half time I bring off Joël, who’s especially tired and really struggling. Sony Norde comes on and we go again.
10 minutes after kick off, another chance forms down the left for Santos. Aidir holds the ball up well before sweeping it out wide for Sello Japhta. He crosses from the byline once again and Hicham Aidir leaps for it, but he’s beaten to the ball by the Haitian substitute Sony Norde, who heads us back in front.
We instantly drop back to the relative safety of the Project: Foxy Mk II system and Aidir nearly makes it 3 just minutes later, but his low shot from 20 yards is dragged wide of the post. With 20 minutes to go I also bring on young set piece specialist Juno in place of Diale; To provide fresh legs and maybe an offensive threat from dead balls.
We look tight at the back from then on and should really grab a 3rd again when Ryan Moon plays a lovely lofted through ball for Aidir. He runs through with only the keeper to beat but his shot is straight at him. We rejig 10 minutes from the end when Zulu replaces Moon and Japhta goes up to the left wing with Masango on the right. Polekwane can’t find a way through and we take the 2-1 win. It’s been a pretty close match but pleasingly our quality showed.
Over the next 11 days we pick up a couple of injuries, which isn’t helpful in the build up to a tough cup match. Gugu Gogotya’s the first to fall with a thigh strain a few days before the Supersport match, but he’s just about fit enough to be named on the bench.
In a fateful reserves match against a Cape Town City reserves side who seemingly had Freddie Krueger up front though, Roscoe and Thoahlane are down within 3 minutes of each other with a torn hamstring and a damaged kneecap respectively. Any lingering plans I had of playing Thoahlane will have to be put on hold for 5 or 6 weeks, but it’s the 2-3 months for Roscoe that really stings. He’s had a good couple of matches and has been forming a good partnership with Mike Kakuba.
Sony Norde’s not happy either just to give me 1 more thing to think about. It’s a fair compaint as he’s only appeared 4 times in 8 games so far, but I just assure him that his absence is only down to the fact that the players who are in the team are earning their places. Sony seems happy enough and leaves it at that but after he leaves my office I realise that that’s not exactly true. There’s been a big Ryan Moon shaped hole on our right wing so far this season where our best player used to play. Whoever’s taken his place seems more like a cheap supermarket own-brand winger so there might be space in my team after all.
Finally, Hicham Aidir has jetted off to join Morocco Under 20’s for their super important friendlies against Tunisia U20’s and Egypt U20’s. He’ll miss the Supersport match and I suppose I just get to eat shit.
So all in all we make a few changes. We keep the same system but Sohna, Norde and the struggling King Carl come in for Roscoe, Moon and Aidir. Norde will have a proper crack at being a right sided inside forward. Nkili also replaces Molekwane at right back as he isn’t impressing me at the minute.
It’s not until just before half time that the match really gets started. Supersport push us back but we hit them with a quick break. King Carl releases Masango down the left and he cuts onto his right foot just outside the box before firing a powerful shot towards the bottom corner, but Mazibuko saves it pretty comfortably.
Quarter of an hour after half time, we hit them on the break again. This time it’s Sony Norde that leads the charge through the centre and he tees up Lark, whose shot is blocked by a defender. Marothi Diale gets to the loose ball first and passes to Joël Soumahoro, who smashes it first time and nearly takes the net off it’s stanchions with a thunderbastard into the top corner.
With 20 minutes to play we’re actually looking pretty dominant. A long goal kick from Komo is nodded on by Mandla Masango and held up by King Carl, who then slips it back through for Masango to shoot, but he leathers the ball against the underside of the bar and it stays out.
A few minutes later we play a superb bit of patient football in the final third, really stretching the Supersport defence. Norde chips the ball in for Joël, who plays it through for Carl Lark 6 yards out. He has to bury it, but can only shoot straight at Mazibuko in net, who makes the save.
A couple more minutes pass and again the ball goes from Norde to Joël and through for Lark, but this time our struggling striker is hauled down in the box by Junior Sibande and the ref points to the spot. Sello Japhta’s the man that steps up to take the penalty and he calmly side foots the ball into the left hand side of the net. Santos lead Supersport 2-0. Happy to see the game out, we revert to Project: Foxy Mk II and Siyabonga Zulu comes on replacing the goalscorer Japhta, while Norde and Masango swap positions and play as orthodox wingers.
With less than 4 minutes to play, orthodox winger Sony Norde takes the ball down the left, creating space for Joël in the channel before squaring the ball for the Ivorian. Joël drops the shoulder to take it past his marker and dashes into the box, before firing past the keeper from 10 yards. 3-0. I bring on young Ernie for a taste of first team football and King Carl looks conflicted as he heads for the bench. He’s done OK today but he should’ve scored. As it stands last year’s top goalscorer is yet to find the net this season.
Within a minute though the change pays off. Ernie presses centre back Junior Sibande into skewing the ball away to Sony Norde, who holds it up on the left and waits for support. He finds it in who else but Joël Soumahoro, who passes it straight through for Ernie to chase. Ernie takes the ball, gets to the left byline and chips in a beautiful cross to the far post, and Masango heads it into the net via the half-hearted palm of Mazibuko.
I’ve not seen such a dominant performance from a Santos team, especially against such frightening opposition. We were perfect: Fearless and immovable at the back, fluid and unstoppable going forwards. Today was a good day.