The atmosphere around training in the week proceeding our unforgettable win over Mthatha Bucks is probably the best that it’s ever been during my time in Lansdowne. There’s nothing like a dramatic turnaround to pick spirits up and it really couldn’t have come at a better time.
Our next match is at the Athlone again, where we’ll take on Golden Arrows. King Carl’s back in full training with the rest of the squad but he might have timed his recovery poorly, as there’s not much chance that he’ll get on the pitch ahead of Themi Maluka after the youngster’s contribution to the last game. Luther Singh’s building his fitness nicely too but he’s still not ready for a starting berth.
Even though we won our last match I’m still concerned about the amount of goals that we’re conceding in the early game. In our last 3 matches we’ve conceded 4 goals in the first 10 minutes! The first 10 minutes! It’s unforgivable so I’m pulling us back a bit. For the Golden Arrows match we’ll be a bit more conservative and a bit less fluid. Sony Norde comes in replacing Masango on the left wing as he was a bit of a passenger in the last match and Ayanda Nkili comes back in at right back after serving his suspension for Tlou Molekwane, who is out serving his suspension. Idiot.
2 minutes into the match, the tactical tweak is already paying off. We break up a half-hearted Golden Arrows attack and Nkili blasts the ball up the pitch and over their defence. Suddenly Aidir’s through on goal. He takes the ball down, goes one on one with the keeper and places the ball into the back of the net. Now that’s how to start a match.
Golden Arrows arguably have the better of the first half despite trailing. They have a lot of possession and pot shots but we’ve already put away the only decent chance that either side’s made. Joël picks up a knock to his thigh just before the break but he’ll stay on into the second half.
10 minutes after the restart, Joël dinks a pass to Sony Norde, who slides it through for Aidir to the left of goal. He shoots from a tight angle but Gumede pulls off a save at his near post. With an hour to play and Santos hanging on, I swap out the injured Joël and bring on Gogotya, a more sensible and cautious style of midfielder. We go to a 4-1-2-3 with Diale in the holding man role.
A few minutes later Sello Japhta gets up the left wing and swings a cross deep into Golden Arrows’ box. Ryan Moon pops up at the far post and gets his head to it but can only nod the ball against the bar. We’ve really dominated this half and don’t even allow Golden Arrows a shot on target until the 70th minute. 10 minutes later Zulu comes on for Japhta to sure us up at the back.
With 3 minutes to go I bring on Luther Singh for a debut. He’s still severely lacking in match fitness but I want to introduce him. Moon comes off. 2 minutes later though, Ngubane lays the ball off for Khaswane 20 yards from our goal and he hits it first time, blasting it into the top corner of the net. Golden Arrows have equalised late in the day and it’s a bitter pill to swallow. We should’ve put this game to bed in the 2nd half.
Joël’s bruised thigh will keep him out for a few days, which is fine to be fair. Our next match is a SA Cup trip to Baroka FC and I was planning on some rotation anyway. The more annoying news though is that Themi Maluka picks up a thigh strain in a reserves match and will miss the Baroka game, which I thought would be a good chance to give him his first start.
In the build up to the match I receive yet another call from Astra manager Bogdan Popa. He wants to remind me that he’s very interested in Luke Fanteni. So interested that he offers another paltry sum of up to £48.5k that makes me hang up before he’s finished talking. He’s really starting to grind my gears.
Here we go then. After our last cup run ended in such devastating fashion in December, I’m eager to do well in the South African FA Cup and that starts today with a win against Baroka. We can’t underestimate teams from the division below, as we found out in last year’s SA Cup first round 0-3 loss against Jomo Cosmos.
I’m pleased to see that our old centre back Issouf Paro has shaken off his hernia in time to make it back for the match. I’ve not seen him play a football match in over a year after his horror injury last January. He’s played sparingly since joining Baroka but injury’s curtailed his season again, so hopefully he can put a run of games together starting today. In terms of our team we’ll line up with our more counter attacking Project: Foxy Mk II and I’ll be making a few personnel changes; Komo starts in net, Molekwane, Sohna, Roscoe and Zulu start across the back, Juno is the holding man with Gogotya and Fanteni in midfield, while Moon and Norde are on the wings backing up Aidir. I’m especially interested in seeing our midfield triangle today. Juno’s impressed me when he’s been called upon, Fanteni is an excellent prospect and Gogotya’s had his own injury problems this year that have limited his game time. Between the 3 of them they’ve only made 8 appearances this season and this is Gogotya’s first start.
After only 5 minutes we go close when Moon plays the ball inside for Hicham Aidir, 35 yards from goal. He powers forwards with the ball, dribbling to the edge of the box before shooting right into the arms of the Baroka keeper.
We play well throughout the half, not allowing Baroka many chances apart from distant pot shots. In the 38th minute Aidir plays the ball through for Norde on the left wing, who crosses it in towards the near post. It’s Gogotya that gets on the end of it, turning and sliding the ball under the keeper from a tight angle to put us ahead.
2 minutes later we’re pushing forwards again and win a free kick just outside the box. Juno’s gone close a few times for us, even hitting the woodwork on a couple of occasions from free kicks. He steps up and shoots, the ball deflects through the wall, the keeper gets a hand to it but can’t keep it out. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing free kick, but it’s Juno’s first professional goal and I doubt he’ll care at all.
We’re 2-0 up at the break and still haven’t allowed Baroka much of a sniff, which is pleasing. The game should really be over but we all know what happens when you let complacency sneak in. I bring on Masango for Ryan Moon, who’s not been terrific.
The closest Baroka actually come is 10 minutes into the 2nd half when Ngubane cuts inside from the left and tries his luck from 25 yards, but he sends the ball well wide of the far post. A couple of minutes later we really twist the knife when Juno’s corner is headed clear as far as Masango, who calmly places the ball into the bottom corner to put us 3-0 up. Sensing that we could still have more goals in us, I bring on King Carl and give Aidir a break. Today could be the day that he finally breaks his duck.
5 minutes later, Fanteni gives the ball to Sony Norde, who dribbles into the box and is tripped by Sheldon Kuenane. A penalty. I’d like Lark to step up but Sony’s adamant that he’s going to take it himself, as he’s one of our regular spot kick takers. He places the ball down and places it firmly out of the keeper’s reach. He makes way with 15 minutes to go to give Luther Singh another run out but the game comes to a close at 4-0.
It’s another blank for King Carl, but I can’t be displeased with a 4-0 win. Some of our team’s performances were fantastic. Our entire defence was extremely solid, including Tlou Molekwane, who hasn’t lived up to expectations so far this season, Juno, Fanteni and man of the match Gogotya were all fantastic along with the intermittent Sony Norde. All in all, I’m really pleased. We’ve not redeemed ourselves for the SA KO Cup Final just yet, but hopefully this’ll be the start of another good cup run with a happier ending.