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Maritzburg bounce back with a bang

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Team of Choice: A difficult team to play against

THERE’S a new wave of optimism sweeping through the city of Pietermaritzburg.

Maritzburg United endured turbulent times last season, but they have bounced back with a bang in this campaign.  

The Team of Choice have put in a string of convincing performances that has propelled them to fifth on the PSL standings. Sports writer Minenhle Mkhize

says why he believes that they are on course to finish in the top three with six games to go if the league resumes.

Their season in a nutshell: 

Maritzburg started the season slowly, but gained momentum as it went on. They didn’t enjoy an off-season because of their participation in the promotion/relegation play-offs, which a toll on some of their players.

The likes of Keagan Buchanan and Daylon Claasen were struggling for match fitness, while Dan Morgan was still trying to find his feet.

Maritzburg had to deal with the departures of midfield duo Fortune Makaringe and Siphesihle Ndlovu.

That all contributed to Maritzburg’s slow start to the season, but once the players spent some time together, the team proved to be a dominant force.

Their consistency has improved dramatically in the second half of the campaign, where they have defied the odds to defeat teams that are challenging for league honours.

Maritzburg targeted a top-eight finish at the start of the season but it seems they have achieved that with ease having amassed 39 points. Their next objective now should be challenging for continental spots.

Coach’s tactics:

Coach Eric Tinkler has made Maritzburg a very difficult team to play against.

They usually play with three centre-backs and overload the two flanks with wings-backs.

In total when they defend, they defend with five. They don’t play with out-and-out wingers.

Two of their wingers cut inside to allow the wing-back to storm forward. Judas Moseamedi was their point of reference in the first half of the season, but Bongokuhle Hlongwane has since taken over that role.

The left-hand side is their strongest side where Mxolisi Kunene is operating. The arrival of Tebogo Tlolane has made them even more dangerous on the left-hand side because he operates as an inside-left in the midfield that is made up of Claasen, Buchanan and Phumlani Ntshangase.

What they have done right/strengths:

Maritzburg are a dominant force at home on Friday nights at Harry Gwala Stadium. They are unbeaten on Friday nights with these nights in Pietermaritzburg having become a nightmare for opposition teams. They have mastered the art of killing off teams at home on Fridays. One of their major weapons is their never-say-die attitude. Maritzburg have earned points from losing positions. Against Bloemfontein Celtic, they were 2-0 down  but showed character when they came back with five minutes to go and earned a 2-2 draw. They also showed the same character against Golden Arrows with six minutes to go when they were 1-0 down. They came back and won the game 2-1. Maritzburg have shown big-match temperament by beating the likes of Kaizer Chiefs, Wits and holding Orlando Pirates. Maritzburg are also very resolute at the back.

What they have done wrong/weaknesses: 

Maritzburg lack pace at the back and that is one of their weak points. Their ability to turn defence into attack is sometimes not quick because of the poor distribution by goalkeeper Richard Ofori when he has to play those long balls.

Key player: Rushine De Reuck 

De Reuck has been a shining light for Maritzburg at the back this season. He has been a pillar of strength at the back with his great tackles and is also comfortable with the ball at his feet having the ability start play at the back. The Cape Town-born defender is very good on one-versus-one situations and is a good reader of the game.

Quinton Jetto (General Manager):

“We learned our lessons from last season, but more importantly we got the directors support in making sure that we assemble a good team that we thought will be much better than last season. It took time for the guys to get the momentum. After five games we had two points, but once we gained our rhythm we never looked back.”

Remaining six games for Maritzburg:

Away from home:

Black Leopards, Highlands Park and Bloemfontein  Celtic. 

At home:

Mamelodi Sundowns, Wits and Orlando Pirates. 

Past five games:

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