Cape Town – Free State Stars are under immense pressure to
try and reignite their Premiership campaign when they travel to Port Elizabeth
for a crucial fixture against Chippa United on Wednesday.
When the current Premiership campaign started, much of the
debate centred around the club’s capacity to finish in the top half of the
league standings. Four months later, that debate has shifted to the club’s
prospects of steering clear of the relegation zone.
The challenge at this juncture will be to achieve some form
of stability before the mid-term break, a task which has become increasingly
difficult following the departure of coach Tom Saintfiet and the extensive
casualty list in the squad.
The club last recorded a victory in September, when it beat
Moroka Swallows at Goble Park and herein lies the rub. Not all of Free State
Stars’ home fixtures have been played at Goble Park this season, which means
that the home advantage hasn’t always been an advantage.
The 5-2 drubbing suffered against Polokwane City at the
Charles Mopeli Stadium, earlier this month, highlights just how difficult it
has been to secure maximum points at home this season. In turn, that has made
collecting points on the road exceedingly difficult, as the pressure to do so
has been so severe.
Quite to the contrary, their opponents on Wednesday night,
Chippa United, have adapted well to their Eastern Cape surroundings and have
fared relatively well at “home” during this campaign. As Free State
Stars prepare for the trip to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, they will do so
in the knowledge that the Chilli Boyz are not to be trifled with this term.
Caretaker coach Kinnah Phiri was always going to be under
immense pressure when he took over at the helm just before the recent
international break. He knew it and the local football fraternity knew it.
However, Phiri refuses to give up on the team just yet and
he still feels that many of the club’s objectives will be realised this term,
even though he will be without the services of at least five players this week.
Four of the players who will not be available for selection, have been affected
by injury, while the fifth, Adam Basit, is out with the flu.
Midfielder Hendrick Somaeb has a toe injury and he could
still be out for one more week.
Rudolf Bester, as was indicated last week, is still
grappling with a grade two hamstring injury and he expects to be sidelined from
football for about three more weeks.
Defender Rueben Thebekang has had knee surgery conducted on
him and he should still be away from the action for the greater part of the
next five weeks. Meanwhile fellow defender Thabiso Maharala also had knee
problems and will not be available for selection ahead of Wednesday’s match.
The circumstances for Chippa United are not nearly as
complicated but the one certainty this week is that midfielder Joseph
Molangoane will not be available for selection this week. He has a broken shin
and is only expected to make a return to the fray next January.
Chippa United have produced a fascinating season and are
among the top eight teams in the league this term. Only one point separates
them from Ajax Cape Town, who have accumulated 18 points this season, which
means the Eastern Cape club is very much in contention for a spot in African
competition next season.
Free State Stars are vulnerable, which is really all the
encouragement that Wednesday’s hosts need.
Kick-off is at 19:30.