DOUBLE-winning coach Mich d’Avray returns to the bench on Wednesday as caretaker coach of Chippa United when the Port Elizabeth side host Moroka Swallows in a key Premier Soccer League outing for both clubs.
D’Avray, who won the league and cup with Cape Town Spurs 20 years and took Perth Glory to the top of the A-League, takes the place of Ernst Middendorp, who the club suspended and who is due to attend a hearing on Thursday.
The new man in charge is concerned by the lengthy hiatus his players have had to take before facing Swallows on Wednesday.
“We have had a very long break and it is a point of concern,” D’Avray said on Tuesday. “We haven’t had the opportunity to play against similar-strength opposition,” he added in a reference to the side’s isolation in Port Elizabeth, where there are no other top-flight or National First Division sides to play p ractice matches against. “We have a couple of players who are lacking match fitness but we might have to take a risk on them.”
Chippa’s last game was a 3-0 loss away at high-flying Mamelodi Sundowns on March 18.
D’Avray is the club’s technical director and has tried to keep continuity by allowing Middendorp’s assistant Fadlu Davids to run most of the sessions over the past few weeks while Chippa prepared for the match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. “We need three points but we’ve been saying that repeatedly ahead of each of the last matches we’ve played. But by hook or crook we have to get three points. It’s all very well talking about it but we need to do the business on the field.”
Chippa have not won in their past 12 league matches, stretching back to late November last year when they edged out Free State Stars 1-0 at home.
The Eastern Cape outfit have six games left and sit 13th in the PSL standings, just three points above the relegation zone.
Meanwhile, coach Clinton Larsen hopes Bloemfontein Celtic can grab a win at title-chasing Mamelodi Sundowns on Wednesday that would provide a confidence boost they could take into next season.
Sundowns must win to keep the heat on leaders Kaizer Chiefs if they are to have any chance of retaining their Absa Premiership crown this season.
But Larsen said his charges were looking for the three points that would keep their top four dreams alive.
“We are quietly confident we can get something from it,” he told Times Media. “We know what a talented squad they are and they are in form after their cup win over Black Aces on Sunday. These are the games you look forward to as a coach because if you come out on the right side of the result, it is very satisfying.”
Celtic are in fifth position in the Absa Premiership, but still within touching distance of fourth place if they can have a good run to the end of the season.
“We want to finish fifth at worst, but are looking up the table rather than down,” Larsen said.
“We have Maritzburg United, Ajax Cape Town and Free State Stars at home still, and our other away trips are Chippa United and Moroka Swallows. No games are easy with teams fighting for points, but we feel we can finish strongly and make a real statement for next season.”
Larsen has a fully fit squad to choose from, bar midfielder Gregory Maasdorp.
He said planning for a match against Sundowns is never easy because opposing coach Pitso Mosimane could make numerous changes without weakening the team.
“When you plan for Sundowns, you plan for the team and not around individuals. We saw at the weekend against Black Aces that Pitso made four or five changes and it did not weaken them one bit. Whether he plays Cuthbert Malajila, Mame Niang or Rodney Ramagalela up front against us, we don’t know, but all present a difficult challenge. So we must just focus on our strengths, and use our pace to create problems for them.”
Sundowns have won the past four meetings between the clubs, though Celtic did claim a 1-0 away success when Ruzaigh Gamildien netted in a 1-0 win.
Elias Pelembe scored the winner for Sundowns when these teams met in Bloemfontein last September.