Mamelodi Sundowns sealed a perfect record with a 2-1 victory over Baroka FC at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Tuesday afternoon to reach the 40-point mark in the DStv Premiership Table.
The defending champions outclassed the visitors to secure their third consecutive league win with a spectacular performance which demanded discipline and aggression after losing two strikers in the first half. Masandawana were well worth their win in the DStv Premiership encounter, co-coach Rulani Mokwena summarised the evening’s affairs in a post-match conference.
“I think we played well in the first half [however] we rushed a little bit at times when we were in possession, then we couldn’t find momentum with the passes. When we were stressed a little bit we then went for a lot more longer passes and shorter passes, the longer passes put you in bigger possibilities for turnovers, when you have those possibilities because you’re playing longer passes, then your team is a little bit stretched and you can’t regain the ball a little bit quicker than you would like.”
“Some of the big events of the first half that also didn’t go [well] for us, that is the injury to Peter [Shalulile] which compromised our high press plan, because we knew that they have two left footed center halves and we had a little bit of a plan on how we wanted to approach the high press and with Peter being a predominant feature in that. We lost Peter, then we lost Kermit [Erasmus], so we’ve got our front line which we’ve prepared for the high press out but then fortunately we got a goal before the half time which then changed the whole half time talk.”
Bafana Ba Style remained the better side for much of the affair, though there were few chances to show for it. ‘Bakgaga ba Mphahlele’ played a compact game in their first half, giving Masandawana a hard time in finding spaces to play their ball forward, however their approach to the second half was different. The visitors applied pressure and loss of possession allowed them to send in a dangerous cross from which eventually led to an equalizer courtesy of Richard Mbulu.
“In the half time we spoke and expected a Mbulu, [Evidence] Makgopa, [Nhlanhla] Mgaga and [Sekela] Sithole’s sort of a front four and they did go in that route. We then struggled to deal with the second balls, long balls and then we struggled [also] when they went aggressive to press with a four on top from our buildup, in particular when we went to Rushine [De Reuck] on the left. We were compromised a little bit with his right foot, but we then changed because we knew that we needed a little bit more balance with Ricardo Nascimento because the picture completely changed in the second half – they were more aggressive with the press, they committed more numbers with the press [and] it meant that the midfield lines stepped up, the defensive line had to step up. When they stepped up they left spaces behind and then you’ve got two problems to solve, one is to solve by exploiting the space behind, the other is by giving the team the right sort of personality to build up and Ricardo gave us that.”
Coach Rulani also took a moment to express his excitement on his players’ outstanding performances. He said: “What a performance by Andile Jali today, he was fantastic, he ran his socks off! In the 89th/90th minute there was a counter attack that he led and normally we know after that type of sprint (high intensity run) there’s some form of muscular complications thereafter, but he’s been unbelievable this season. A brilliant performance from young ‘Pitso’ [Sphelele Mkhulise], very influential in our offensive schemes, very intensive and intentional with the usage of the ball. Then of course Themba Zwane, it’s special how he leads the front line, so I’d like us to focus on these players who were on the pitch and helping the team.”
On Friday The Brazilians will be back in action against the Soweto giants, Orlando Pirates who are pushing their way up in the DStv Premiership after a consistent performance in their recent performances. A goal thrilling encounter with high intensity and a pound for pound encounter is the expectation when the two teams meet. Masandawana who have gone 16 games without a loss will have more pressure to maintain their fantastic run, meanwhile the Buccaneers might be looking to break their consistency and hand the champions their first drop of disappointment. According to the champions coach Rulani, Friday’s encounter will be carried out without any gloating.
“If there is any level of complacency for that match – and that is a big if, and if there is one team that can be forgiven for being complacent, it’s Mamelodi Sundowns. If you’ve lost one game over two seasons, if there is one team that has bought themselves the right to be complacent it’s this team [because] this team doesn’t get enough appraisal nor recognition for the amount of work that they’ve done. Being two points away from possibly the best performance in relation to a calendar year and setting so many records in the process, winning games, playing at such a high level with consistency, intensity and aggression, as well as fighting to win football matches – like today they fought, then you can forgive them for one or two games if they don’t play well.”
“But like I said, it’s a big if because I don’t think with us in the change room that it’s possible, and secondly I don’t think with the types of characters that we have in that change room that it’s possible. We will go like we always go to every match to play to win, so Pirates will come and we will host them with the drive to try to win the football match. You can be rest assured that there will be no level of complacency from our side, no chance.”