Much has been made about the tight battle for the Absa Premiership trophy this season and while the top of the table does supply plenty of intrigue‚ there is also an epic tussle developing at the bottom in the bid to avoid relegation.
Six clubs remain in serious danger of the drop‚ while a further three could get sucked in as the bottom teams begin to find form at this late stage of the season.
The bottom four all won their last matches and while Maritzburg United sit slightly adrift on 20 points in the automatic relegation position‚ just two points separate Free State Stars in 15th and AmaZulu in 11th.
Usuthu‚ hampered by a six-point deduction imposed by Fifa‚ had looked safe some weeks back‚ but four defeats in their last five games has sent them spiralling back into trouble.
Highlands Park (30 points)‚ Lamontville Golden Arrows (31) and Bloemfontein Celtic (31) have all passed the magical mark that usually signifies safety‚ but are likely to be still one win away from ensuring they are not sucked into the relegation playoff position.
What is interesting about the six sides most in danger is how many games they have left against each other and the frontrunners in the title chase.
Baroka FC‚ for example‚ play three of their five remaining games against fellow relegation candidates and the other two versus Mamelodi Sundowns and BidVest Wits‚ who are still seeking league honours.
Fourteenth-placed Chippa United’s problems were confounded losing at home against third-placed Bidvest on Friday night at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Three of Chippa’s final four games are against teams currently in the top five in the league and the other is versus Kaizer Chiefs‚ giving them a massively difficult run-in.
Black Leopards have six games remaining but must face Sundowns‚ Wits‚ Chiefs and Cape Town City‚ as well as fellow drop candidates AmaZulu and Maritzburg. The bonus for them is that four of those six games are at home in their Thohoyandou stronghold.
Contrast that with Free State Stars‚ who must play four of their last six games on the road‚ and it is a decided advantage. Ea Lla Koto have claimed only eight points from 33 on their travels so far this season.
The team that finishes bottom of the league is automatically relegated to the National First Division‚ while the side that ends 15th must enter the promotion-relegation playoffs with the teams that finish second and third in the NFD.
TimesLIVE looks at the run-ins of those in contention for relegation:
Points: 20 from 25 games
13/04 vs Highlands Park (away)
24/04 vs Orlando Pirates (home)
27/04 vs Black Leopards (away)
04/05 vs SuperSport United (home)
11/05 vs Baroka FC (away)
FREE STATE STARS
Points: 24 from 24 games
13/04 vs Orlando Pirates (away)
17/04 vs Highlands Park (home)
24/04 vs Baroka FC (home)
28/04 vs Lamontville Golden Arrows (away)
04/05 vs Kaizer Chiefs (away)
11/05 vs Mamelodi Sundowns (away)
Points: 24 from 25 games
20/04 vs Mamelodi Sundowns (home)
24/04 vs Free State Stars (away)
28/04 vs AmaZulu (home)
04/05 vs BidVest Wits (away)
11/05 vs Maritzburg United (home)
Points: 24 from 25 games
23/04 vs Mamelodi Sundowns (away)
26/04 vs Cape Town City (home)
04/05 vs Polokwane City (away)
11/05 vs Kaizer Chiefs (home)
Points: 25 from 24 games
13/04 vs Kaizer Chiefs (home)
24/04 vs BidVest Wits (away)
27/04 vs Maritzburg United (home)
01/05 vs Mamelodi Sundowns (home)
04/05 vs AmaZulu (away)
11/05 vs Cape Town City (home)
Points: 26 from 25 games
14/04 vs Lamontville Golden Arrows (away)
24/04 vs SuperSport United (home)
28/04 vs Baroka FC (away)
04/05 vs Black Leopards (home)
11/05 vs Bloemfontein Celtic (away)