CAPE TOWN, May 10 – Victory over Free State Stars at Goble Park on Saturday afternoon would ensure that Mamelodi Sundowns extend their championship-winning record to nine titles.
As the table stood on Friday morning, Sundowns are on 56 points, two above Orlando Pirates, with Bidvest Wits five points back on 51.
That could, however, all change, as the Premier Soccer League (PSL) could still be set to make a late challenge on Friday to its own disciplinary committee’s decision that Sundowns be handed a financial penalty, rather than a points deduction, after it was found that the Brazilians illegibly fielded Wayne Arendse in a match against Bidvest Wits last October, which ended 1-1.
The PSL reportedly want Wits to be awarded a 3-0 win, which would mean Sundowns are deducted a point, and that the Students are awarded an additional two points.
Should that be the case, Sundowns will be on 55 points, Pirates on 54, and Wits on 53, meaning the title race is a three-horse one, and not just two teams.
However, the Tshwane side will still know that a win over Free State Stars would guarantee the title, no matter what the outcome of the hearing, or the results of the other two clubs on Saturday.
It won’t be easy against a Stars side who face possible relegation, but the manner in which Pitso Mosimane’s side bounced back from the disappointment of their CAF Champions League exit to convincingly beat Golden Arrows earlier this week, underlined their desire not to end the season trophy-less, and to successfully defend their league title.
Pirates – looking for their first league title since 2012 (and their fifth in total, only Sundowns have won it more times), came unstuck last weekend with a 2-2 draw away to Cape Town City, which handed back the initiative to Masandawana.
Bucs end their season at home to Polokwane City, who are certain to end the season in either fifth or sixth position.
Wits are away at Golden Arrows, who are in tenth spot and only have the faintest mathematical chance of claiming a top-eight finish.
For the Students to dramatically clinch the Premiership title for the second time in their history – two years after their first – they will need both Sundowns and Pirates to lose, or draw, in their respective matches.
That is, however, working on the assumption that they are indeed awarded an additional two points from the PSL.
If not, the Johannesburg outfit would still be in contention to overtake Pirates and finish in second and claim a Champions league spot for next season. That would require Bucs to lose to Polokwane City, and for Wits to beat Arrows by two goals.
Currently, Pirates have a plus-17 goal difference, with Wits and Sundowns on plus-15 – which again could change, should the PSL manage to push through a late ruling.
Demotion to the National First Division (NFD) has massive financial implications for clubs, with a speedy return to the Premiership anything but guaranteed.
With that in mind, five teams – Maritzburg United, Black Leopards, Free State Stars, Chippa United and Baroka FC all head into the final round of fixtures on Saturday with their futures hanging in the balance, and the pressure very much on.
It certainly looks all set for a drama-filled afternoon in which club officials and fans from across the country will be keeping a close eye on social media in order to stay updated with the unfolding action.
The monthly grant for top-flight clubs is believed to be R1.5 million per month, although some reports claim that has been increased to R2 million per month.
The monthly stipend received by NFD teams is meanwhile thought to be in the region of R350 000, or possibly as much R500 000.
Either way, the more than R1 million deficit between the two leagues makes all the difference when it comes to paying salaries for top players and technical staff, not to mention the other multitude of expenses which come with running a professional football club.
As things stand this season in the top flight, just two points separate bottom-of-the-table Maritzburg United (26 points) from 12th placed Baroka FC. In between, Leopards, Stars and Chippa are all locked on 27 points.
Goal difference may well come into play, and currently, Chippa hold the edge in that respect with a negative difference of nine goals. Maritzburg and Baroka each have a goal difference of minus 10, with Ea Lla Koto on -15 and Lidoda Duvha on -17.
With the standings so tight, any one of the five clubs could be relegated automatically, and any one of these teams could also end 15th, which would mean a play-off with NFD sides Royal Eagles and Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila to determine who plays in the top flight next season.
Maritzburg, who have shown a revival since the arrival of coach Eric Tinkler three months back, are up against Baroka, away at the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Victory for the KZN outfit would guarantee they’re not relegated automatically, and if anyone of Chippa, Stars or Leopards lose, they won’t even have to concern themselves with the play-offs.
A club with an incredible supporter base in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the general consensus is that Maritzburg bring a lot to the league and there’ll be a fair share of neutrals out there hoping they can achieve what they did three years ago, when they beat Jomo Cosmos 3-1 on the final day of the league to escape the axe.
“We’ve just come from a trip there (the Limpopo Province), playing Leopards (a 2-1 win two weeks back, which proceeded a 3-1 victory over SuperSport at home last Saturday), so they’ll be up for the challenge even if it won’t be easy,” Tinkler said this week.
“We need to go there and do what we are good at; our offensive play, look to take the game to the opposition, play without fear, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Of the three clubs on 27 points, it’s probably Leopards, who host Cape Town City in Thohoyandou, who have the easier game.
That’s because City – guaranteed to finish fourth, or perhaps third if they can overtake Bidvest Wits, don’t have too much to play for, and because Cape teams are generally not fond of the long trek to the far north of the country.
For Free State Stars and Chippa United, it’s a very different scenario. Stars host Mamelodi Sundowns, who must win in order to successfully defend their league title.
That’s assuming Sundowns’ challengers, Orlando Pirates, beat Polokwane City, but either way, the Tshwane side won’t want to leave anything to chance and will be going all out guns blazing in Bethlehem. Even more so after their CAF Champions League exit last weekend left with the possibility of ending the season empty-handed.
Chippa meanwhile face a Kaizer Chiefs side who have been woefully off form in the league after picking up just three of the last available 15 points and failing to win in their last five Premiership outings.
Amakhosi are in seventh spot, and if they slip up against Clinton Larsen’s side in Port Elizabeth, they could potentially be overtaken by both Highlands Park and Bloemfontein Celtic and thereby fail to earn a top-eight spot and the subsequent reward of participation in next season’s Top 8 competition.
Chiefs’ most recent win (in all competitions) was a 4-2 victory over the Chilli Boys in a Nedbank Cup semi-final clash on April 20.
Saturday’s fixtures (all games kick off at 3pm):
Orlando Pirates vs Polokwane City
Black Leopards vs Cape Town City
Bloemfontein Celtic vs AmaZulu
Golden Arrows vs Bidvest Wits
Free State Stars vs Mamelodi Sundowns
Chippa United vs Kaizer Chiefs
Baroka vs Maritzburg United
SuperSport United vs Highlands Park
– African News Agency (ANA)