Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy. Picture credit: Cape Town City FC

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Benni looking to slip Cape Town City in under the radar

CAPE TOWN, March 8 – He might be playing down Cape Town City’s chances, but in private, Benni McCarthy must surely be dreaming about the possibility of winning a first league title as a coach.
The Cape team are only in their third year since formation, but already there is a trophy-winning culture at the club after they claimed the Telkom Knockout in 2016 and the MTN8 earlier this season.
City are still in the Nedbank Cup – they have a quarterfinal date away to Kaizer Chiefs at the end of this month, and are very handily placed in the league; for now, a treble remains on the cards.
On Tuesday, the Citizens came from behind to beat defending champions and perennial title favourites Mamelodi Sundowns 2-1, just a few days after they sensationally clawed back a two-goal deficit to beat another of the league contenders, Bidvest Wits, 3-2.
Earlier in the season, McCarthy had been taking issue with his players’ wastefulness in front of goal. But in the last 15 league games (since late October), they have notched an impressive 31 goals, which has contributed to 10 wins and two draws. That was after the league’s current top scorers had managed only nine in their opening eight Premiership matches.
Perhaps the former Bafana striker has found the secret to coaching goal-scoring on the training ground, or maybe it’s been more a case of building confidence, character and belief in his squad.
With Kermit Erasmus, one of a handful of players brought into the club from Europe, now looking settled and starting to find the net, ably assisted by Siphelele Mthembu, Gift Links and Riyaad Norodien, and with Craig Martin and Bradley Ralani also a threat, McCarthy may well feel his side has the firepower to go all the way.
City also have one of the top goalkeepers in the league in Peter Leeuwenburgh, while holding midfielder Thato Mokeke and right-back Thami Mkhize are playing some of their best-ever football. Veteran Teko Modise’s title-winning experience could be another important factor.
One thing is for sure – the character City have showed of late, and the way they have been celebrating goals and victories, shows that this is a very unified and focussed bunch of players.
Unlike fellow contenders Sundowns and Orlando Pirates (who are also still in the Caf Champions League for now), and to a lesser extent Bidvest Wits and SuperSport United, the team from the  Mother City are not weighed down by expectation, be it from their fans, management, or the media. It’s therefore understandable that McCarthy has been dismissive of his side’s chances, publicly at least.
“We are in the race, we’ll go as far as we can, but title contenders – we’re not there yet. Next season we’ll build towards it, two seasons time maybe. Now, too early,” he said.
“We’re running our own race and focusing on what’s on our plate. For us we take it one game at a time, we are not even title contenders. We don’t fall into that. We are just enjoying our football. We want to improve, we want to win football matches and come where we might end up, it’s going to be a bonus and a plus.”
Benni will know well though that the fickle nature of football means that there are no guarantees – things can change very quickly, be it form or playing personnel – and therefore it’s important to strike while the iron is hot.
If anything, he’ll be hoping that his downplaying of City’s title hopes will take the pressure off his players and that they will continue to produce the kind of performances they have done over the few weeks, and take that momentum all the way through to the end of the season.
Another plus-point for the Cape club is that they do not have the toughest run-in – included in their last seven matches are several games against mid-table teams who won’t be overly desperate for points.
Remaining league fixtures: Polokwane City (home), Golden Arrows (away), Bloemfontein Celtic (a), Highlands Park (h), Chippa United (a), Orlando Pirates (h), Black Leopards (a). (ANA)

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