A lot has happened since the heartbreaks of losing in Cup competitions to Sekhukhune United and Orlando Pirates, and Stellies are in the form of their lives in domestic football.
Stellenbosch FC coach Steve Barker says they are banking on their maturity to help them end their semi-final curse in the Carling Knockout Cup after enduring pain in previous tournaments.
Stellies will play in their third successive semi-final, against Richards Bay in uMlazi on Saturday (3pm kick-off), having failed to win the last two in the Nedbank Cup and MTN8.
But a lot has happened since the heartbreaks to Sekhukhune United and Orlando Pirates, and Stellies are in the form of their lives in domestic football.
They beat Chippa United and Polokwane City in regulation time in the last 16 and quarter-final of the ‘beer cup’, while they are also fourth in the DStv Premiership standings.
Stellenbosch’s fourth place was consolidated with a 3-0 win over neighbours Cape Town Spurs on Tuesday night – with goals from Iqraam Rayners, Jayden Adams and Darrel Matsheke – as they stretched their unbeaten streak to seven games across all competitions.
“Momentum is a big thing. You become confident when you are winning matches. That’s a very key factor,” said Barker in the bowels of Cape Town Stadium.
“It’s lessons learnt as well. We’ve come close in two semi-finals, but we didn’t make the finals. The pain we felt when we didn’t make the final should remind us that it hurts not to get there.
“I think we are mature as a team in terms of playing semi-finals. So, hopefully that maturity and the previous pain of not making finals will drive us forward, though it won’t be easy for us.”
Barker is right, as they won’t get an easy game against Richards Bay away from home. Coach Kaitano Tembo’s men beat Moroka Swallows and Orlando Pirates at home in the last 16 and last eight.
However, their midweek win should serve as a huge motivation, given that Spurs and Richards Bay have been the whipping boys of the league since the start of the season.
“If we want to be a team that’s challenging at the right end of the table and win trophies, it’s matches like tonight where we had to show the championship mentality,” Barker said.
“On paper, we were playing a team that’s bottom of the log, and on Saturday, we are playing a team that’s second from bottom. If we don’t capitalise on such matches, we are not on the right track.”
Stellies are on the right track. Against Spurs, they were able to chop and change their starting line-up – with some of the regulars rested for the clash on Saturday – but they were still able to come out tops.
Goalkeeper Sage Stephens was one of the notable omissions on the night as he was replaced by Oscarine Masuluke, who grabbed the opportunity with both hands and kept a clean sheet. “It’s not easy. But we are making a mentality where everyone in the squad is able to play their role. Sage has been in top form, and he was on three yellows … we didn’t want to risk (him),” Barker said.
“It’s about having faith and trust in the whole squad. I told them we are going to make changes and the pressure is on you. It’s nice to get a chance, but you have to perform.
“It’s good pressure. The pressure is higher on Saturday, and everyone wants to be in the squad. And players like Matsheke were in top form today (Tuesday). He raised his hand up.”