WITH only four games remaining, Chippa United are in the final lap of their survival marathon in the top flight.
The Chilli Boys are in 13th place on the standings with 29 points from 26 games as they seek to retain their Premier Soccer League status.
They have two crucial home games — against Bloemfontein Celtic and logleaders Kaizer Chiefs — and they also have to contend with two away trips to fellow strugglers Free State Stars and Mpumalanga Black Aces.
As the league draws to a close, things have heated up at the bottom of the log as teams battle to avoid the drop.
Suspended Chippa United coach Ernst Middendorp had a 32-point target he figured would be enough to survive. But that target no longer looks sufficient to keep the team in the PSL at this stage.
Many observers believe Chippa’s last game of the season, against Chiefs, could well decide whether they will remain in the PSL.
But the Chilli Boys’ chief operations officer, Lukhanyo Mzinzi, believes otherwise. Earlier this month Mzinzi said: “We are certain that in our last game of the season against Kaizer Chiefs, we won’t be in need of those points because we will be safe from relegation already.”
He has urged supporters to continue backing Chippa. “We still rely on the people of the Eastern Cape to support us.”
On Saturday, the Port Elizabeth-based side got a point away from home by playing out a goalless draw with third-placed Bidvest Wits at Bidvest Stadium.
The point was a good result for the Chilli Boys as they cannot afford a loss at this crucial stage of the campaign.
Caretaker coach Mich D’Avray, who took over the reins from Middendorp who was suspended last month, believes Chippa need one more win to stay clear of the relegation zone.
Last week, they secured their first win of the year, after a 12-match winless run, against Moroka Swallows under D’Avray. That eased Chippa’s relegation worries — and the result took the Birds to bottom of the log.
Ahead of the crucial game against Swallows, D’Avray said he was confident he would save the club from relegation, but said it had to be a joint effort between management, the players and the technical team.
“Yes, I believe I can save the team from being relegated, but I don’t think this is about me.
“I believe this is a team effort and, more importantly, it’s about the players. We either stay in the league together or we sink together,” he said.
The Chilli Boys have a week’s break to rejuvenate themselves before their clash against Celtic on Wednesday next week at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium (kickoff 7.30pm).
D’Avray could have Edward Manqele to call on by next week. Manqele, who scored the winning goal against Swallows, is recovering from a thigh injury.
His presence on the field would be a big boost for Chippa.