I lean back in my comfy-ish office chair, hands together with fingers interlocked behind my head, and I let out a sigh. Yanga Baliso’s just been in my office complaining about the amount of playing time I’ve given him but what does he expect? He hasn’t played well when I’ve played him while Mandla Masango and Sony Norde have been tearing shit up on the wings. Ryan Moon isn’t complaining! He understands that he isn’t playing because when he has he’s been awful!
Here’s the problem: The way I see it we have 4 wide players in this squad, not including Sello Japhta who’s doing fine at full back. We have Masango; A right footed right winger or left sided inside forward, Norde; A left footed left winger or right sided inside forward, Baliso; A left footed left winger and Moon; A right footed right winger. In Project: Meatloaf’s most recent iteration, Masango and Norde have done brilliantly, cutting in from the wings and forming a front 3 with Aidir, while Japhta overlaps down the left and attacks the space that Masango leaves.
As much as I like it though we could do with width on the right too. Nkili’s not an attacking fullback and Molekwane’s not particularly impressed me so far due to his defensive weaknesses, while Norde can’t really be expected to go down the line on his weaker foot. Ideally either Ryan Moon would be in form, bursting down the right flank like he did last year, or Masango would take the right and we’d have another right footed left sided inside forward, which would allow us to have width on the right and left. Essentially, I’ve left myself in a position where Yanga Baliso’s role, an outright left winger, is redundant. The left hand side is where we already have width at full back and we need that person cutting in and creating space from the wing. The only time I can possibly use Baliso now is when Zulu’s playing at full back and we don’t have Japhta pushing forward, which realistically means the winger is going to continue to be frustrated with his lack of game time. I need to sort this in January, whether that means getting rid of Yanga, bringing in another inside forward, or both.
Anyway, league leaders Supersport United are visiting today. You remember them, they’re the same league leading Supersport side that we demolished 4-0 in our last encounter in the SA KO Cup. No biggie. In all seriousness though that match seems to have been an anomaly in an extremely good Season for Supersport.
As the home side, we’re obviously still going to try to take the game to them though. We’re going with almost exactly the same lineup that smashed them in the cup, except with the infinitely more in form striker Aidir in instead of King Carl. Let’s have them again.
25 minutes into a tight match Masango’s cross is blocked and the ball rolls back to Japhta who whips it in. Nhlapo tries a clearance but catches it poorly and it only goes as far as Sony Norde 12 yards out, who volleys into the bottom corner.
With half an hour in the match to play it’s not been a classic. I decide to hold onto our lead, bringing on Zulu for Japhta and changing to a cautious and standard 4-4-1-1, with Norde and Masango on the left and right as wingers as oppose to inside forwards. The changes actually spark us into life when Soumahoro finds Aidir just inside Supersport’s half and the striker makes short work of getting himself to the edge of the box, dribbling straight through before slamming the ball into the top corner. 10 goals already this season is quite frankly ridiculous.
Quarter of an hour later I drop us back to 4-1-4-1 with Diale in the holding man role. 5 minutes later and with 10 to play though, the visitors pull one back through captain Michael Morgan’s 20 yard free kick. Not wanting to throw away our lead, I dedicate the final 10 minutes to retaining possession, wasting time and killing the match off. Just to make sure I bring on Juno for Joël to give us some extra defensive steel in midfield.
I needn’t have worried though. With a minute of normal time to go, Juno launches a long free kick into the Supersport box, Kakuba nods the ball down and Aidir stabs it away. 3-1.
The ref blows the final whistle and the Athlone explodes with noise. Unbe-fucking-lievable. League leaders Supersport have now lost only 4 times in all competitions this season and 2 of those have been drubbings against the mighty Santos FC.
I barely stop in the changing room while the lads laugh and celebrate. I hurry straight off to find Goolam Allie, club Chairman. I find him eating Prawn Sandwiches in the VIP lounge with a lot of people I don’t recognise and drag him away for a word.
“Hicham Aidir needs a new contract by tomorrow morning” I grin, slightly out of breath. Allie gives me a sceptical look.
“Hicham Aidir’s only just signed, Franjo” he says, “We can’t give him a new co…”
“He’s signed a contract with a bloody release fee!” I interrupt him. “Have you been watching him this season? He could be the real deal and anyone abroad can snatch him away at the minute for £250k! We need to throw money at this lad and get rid of that clause or we’re going to lose him”.
The next morning, Aidir’s offered a new 4 year deal with no release fee.
We’ve got a problem though. Just 2 days after the Supersport match we’re playing Magesi FC away, the team that are bottom of the league. 4 days after that though we’ve got our SA KO Cup final against Kaizer Chiefs. I can’t play my full strength side 3 times in a week including a Cup final, so this is going to require some careful and skilful rotation.
My first decision is made for me – Japhta’s suspended for picking up his 4th yellow, so Zulu comes into the side. This’ll allow me to give Baliso a chance in the first team, so Norde is dropped to the bench. Molekwane and Juno come in too replacing Nkili and Diale, who are also rested. So we’re playing a similar system still, but with Baliso and Masango as out and out wingers on the left and right respectively.
We get off to a good start when Masango’s low cross is deflected in off Thibitsi’s foot after 15 minutes to give us the lead. Magesi dominate the first half though annoyingly and get their reward a few minutes from the break when Komo fluffs Khanyile’s header from Ntusi’s free kick and allows it to drift into the net.
We change tact at half time, swapping to a counter attacking 4-1-2-3 and bringing Gogotya on for Joël, who’s pretty knackered.
Over the next half hour, Sinbad and Masango are also brought off for a rest and replaced by Fanteni and Moon.
With 8 minutes to play though, Ngongca whips a cross in to the far post and Webber heads home. It’s heartbreaking, but even as I scream for the players to push forwards on the attack I know an equaliser’s not coming. We’re tired and we’re done. I’m honestly not sure if anyone deserved to win this match, but if anyone did it was Magesi.
That’s not what we needed. In all honesty I could’ve done without that match altogether. A 3-1 win against a very good side followed by a weeks worth of rest and training would’ve left us in fantastic shape going into the SA KO Cup final. As it stands, we’re going to the FNB Stadium on the back of losing to the team that are propping up the rest of the table.
I guess we’ll just have to… Hang on, the ‘neutral’ Stadium that’s been chosen to host the final is the FNB Stadium? Kaizer Chiefs’ FNB Stadium?! Are they playing at fucking home?!?