From Ajax to Ajax- Season 1, Part III

2019 Youth Intake

While I forgot to take a screenshot of the intake itself, I have taken screenshots of the best prospects from this year’s youth class.

Mkhize is easily the best player in the intake, and already looks to be on the edge of the first team. I can see him playing a part as early as next season, or two seasons from now at the latest. I plan to train him as a Mezzala to get the most out of his creative abilities, and before long I expect him to replace 29-year-old Raymond Monama in the 2nd XI spot for that role.
The brilliantly-named Shakes Abrahams adds some much-needed depth at the right back position, where we had only three natural fits at the entire club before the intake. Shakes looks a good prospect, but he does need some work on his technicals to become an effective wide player, especially crossing. His path into the first team is much trickier, however, as Thendo Mukumela and Sirgio Kammies are quality young players in their own right that Abrahams will have to develop especially well to surpass. With that in mind, it might be a while before we see this guy in action for the senior squad.
Sono is the youngest player in the intake at 15, but he certainly isn’t the shortest on talent. Since we don’t have an AM in our primary tactic, I’ll also be training him as a Mezzala to give him more versatility. That’ll inevitably increase the time it takes for him to be useful to the team, but he’s such a young player that I don’t think that’ll matter too much.

Closing Third (-2 games)

We were unstoppable in both the league and cup up until mid-April, but deep progression in the cup has come at the expense of our league form since then.

We ensured February would be a perfect month in the league with an easy win over in-form Mbombela at home. Thomas Verhaar added to his hat trick in the previous match with a brace here, with a Thabo Mosadi header and a 20-yarder from Gerald Phiri to support him. The month finished with an insanely entertaining but frustrating cup tie against First Division rivals Cape Umoya* in a game that had everything, including two red cards for the opposition. Their first sending off occurred on just 19′, though it was in truth a very harsh decision by the referee. That gave us license to dominate the game in the attacking third, but we couldn’t quite polish off our chances in normal time, the best coming from Morne Nel who got clear on goal but hit the post from long range. In extra time Cape Umoya’s resistance finally seemed to crumble, as they had a man injured with no subs remaining and then gave us a penalty for a trip on Gerald Takwara. The foul also resulted in their second red card of the match, which brought their numbers down to just eight men. But Prince Nxumalo missed the penalty, leaving the responsibility to finding our winner to a rather unlikely source. 2nd XI right back Sirgio Kammies had only put up a handful of shots all season, but in the 110th minute he scored a beauty, taking a cross-field pass from his opposite full back Yagan Sasman and blazing the ball into the back of the net from 20 yards out. We should have scored more with our huge man advantage, something we almost achieved through Nxumalo’s header on 116′, but it was called back for offside in what was a disappointing day for our departing striker. A win is a win, and it was an unforgettable one at that, but we should have performed a bit better here given the circumstances.

March began with a routine win over relegation strugglers Jomo Cosmos*, with another goal from Phiri- this one from a difficult angle- and a delightful cannon header from Kiyaam Bull off Phiri’s corner giving us the points. We then thrashed local rivals Stellenbosch by a six-goal margin for the second time this season, in a match where we were truly firing on all cylinders. Nxumalo and Nel both bagged much-needed braces to end their respective goal droughts, center back Isaac Nhlapo scored his second goal of the season from a looping header off a corner, and Masilake Phohlongo also grabbed his second goal of the season off the bench, who seems to have embraced the “supersub” role for us as he gets more comfortable as a striker. Encouraging signs all round. We then faced our first big test in the Nedbank Cup, where we travelled to Pretoria to take on Premiership big boys SuperSport, and emerged victorious thanks to a truly inspirational second half performance. The first half, however, was the opposite of inspirational. We went behind after just three minutes when some poor defending on a cross gifted Siyabonga Nhlapho a tap-in at the back post. We struggled to find our footing in the game in the rest of the half, and were punished shortly into the second period, as their prolific striker Bradley Grobler got clear on goal to force a terrific save off Brandon Petersen… but easily put in the rebound. Two goals down with 30 minutes to play, we needed a serious change in fortunes to save ourselves, and thankfully a switch from a conservative 4-4-1-1 to our usual attacking strategy provided just that. Shortly after Rodrick Kabwe had shown the first signs of threat by hitting the bar from a free kick, Nel crafted a brilliant finish on 68′, driving into space and finding the bottom-left corner from outside the box to provide us an avenue back into the game. Five minutes later, and we were well and truly back in it, as SuperSport put all of their defensive eggs in the basket of marking Raymond Monama on a counter, who found an unmarked Verhaar surging forward to slam in our equalizer on the volley. We didn’t stop the attack at level pegging; shortly after Nel had a second denied by the post, Tashreeq Morris got our winner on 87′, taking an inadequate clearance outside the box, cutting in to the edge of the 18, and fooling the keeper with a shot down the middle that could only be parried into the back of the net. A sensational comeback and a massive result that gave us confidence heading into the quarter finals of the cup, and potentially beyond. We finished March with a dominant win over Royal Eagles at home, though the first highlight of the game on 9′ was a negative one for us, as Nxumalo missed another penalty, ensuring he won’t be taking one again in a red and white shirt. Morris quickly erased that memory with two goals on 14′ and 22′, continuing his good form from the cup game. Nel also made it two consecutive games with a goal on 38′, and four minutes later Nxumalo redeemed himself with a strong headed finish from Mosadi’s cross. Royal Eagles did get one back very late on, but having done our job well in the first half and outshooting them 43-7 over the entire game, the margin of victory was fully deserved to cap a second consecutive perfect month in all competitions.

April began with our most recent league win against Ubuntu Cape Town down the road at the Athlone Stadium. Though we were easily the better team in the first half, we couldn’t quite find a way to score, but that was immediately corrected once the second half whistle blew. With 47 minutes on the clock, a delicious deep cross from Yagan Sasman found the head of Verhaar rising high, who steered the finish into the back of the net. Ubuntu threatened an equalizer with two dangerous free kicks, but the crossbar and Petersen were equal to them. Then we found the insurance goal on 78′, as Bull headed home from a set piece for the fifth time this season, this time drilling Mosadi’s corner into the ground which zipped into the bottom-right corner at high velocity. A solid win over a decent team, but our league form would dry up after this. Our next game saw us return to cup action, with a mouth-watering iKapa Derby in the quarter final against Premiership title contenders Cape Town City. We quite unbelievably got on the board in the very first minute, when in our first attack of the game a heavy touch by Verhaar looked to have ended the chance, but in trying to clear the ball, right back Thami Mkhize clattered the ball off center back Thato Mokeke, which rolled over the line for 1-0. City were determined not to let that embarrassment eliminate them from the competition, so they took the initiative in the rest of the first half and into the second half. That got them an equalizer on 75′, as winger Riyaad Norodien was shown the inside by Sibusiso Khumalo, which enabled him to launch an absolute screamer into the top-left corner from 20 yards out. But just two minutes after their goal, we got our winner, as Kabwe caught the City defense napping at the back post with his free kick delivery to Nhlapo, who headed home in stride to cue wild celebrations in the overwhelmingly red and white support at the Cape Town Stadium. City certainly tried their best to get level again, but this time our defense held them off and we advanced to the semis at the expense of our foremost rivals, who I certainly look forward to facing again next season. We would follow up that big result poorly however, as we dropped points to mid-table TS Galaxy* away at the Kameelrivier Stadium. The 2nd XI dominated in the attacking third but were insipid in front of goal, and a late red card for Kammies didn’t help either. We were never in danger of losing, but this was a quite forgettable performance in a match where a win could have secured the title. Our next game also ended up being one to forget, as Richards Bay handed us just our third defeat of the season at the Cape Town Stadium. We again dominated, outshooting them 31-3, but we were again poor in front of goal and Promise Mkhuma was a lethal weapon for our opponents, sinking one from 20 yards on 14′ and tapping in a bungled clearance from Tamsanqa Teyise at the back post on 57′. Despite putting 16 shots on target ourselves, their keeper saved each and every one of them, and we walked away with a rather shameful goose egg in the score column and another missed opportunity to get our hands on the trophy.

We started May with our most important remaining league fixture against Tshakhuma at home, the team chasing us for the title. Now only one point was enough to win it, and one point was indeed what we got, but I’m still disappointed that we didn’t win this game. It was a game of few chances, but we took our first good one, as Morris knocked in a rebound from Thendo Mukumela’s saved effort on 30′. Edward Manqele missed a golden chance to equalize midway through the second half, and as we failed to find a second goal, it was Manqele who took his second chance in the first minute of stoppage time, putting in a free header that our defense should have covered. The rest of the added time yielded nothing, so although we lifted the trophy after the game, there was still reason to not be fully satisfied with the day’s events. We went from a bittersweet result in the league to an absolutely astonishing result in the cup, where we took on the Premiership’s joint-most successful club and CAF Champions League finalists Mamelodi Sundowns in the semi final. And we completely obliterated them, sending shockwaves through the entire country and sailing into the final in the process. Sundowns bossed the early goings and looked likely to score, but we grabbed a goal against the run of play on 18′, as Nel took a pass from Grant Margeman in space and rifled the ball into the heart of the net from 20 yards out. Sundowns oddly seemed less threatening after that goal, and Verhaar nearly got us a second at the end of the first half. Shortly into the second half came the key moment, as their right back Anele was dismissed for a second yellow card on 53′. After that, the floodgates opened, as Verhaar slotted in our second on 56′ and Nel got his second and our third just two minutes later. Phiri headed in our fourth on 67′ after a horrible miss in similar circumstances shortly before, and 90 seconds later Morris would head in our fifth from Mukumela’s brilliant deep cross. Nel would claim his hat trick on 72′ with another brilliant long range drive that arrowed into the bottom-left corner, then his midfield partner Monama powered in our seventh from just outside the box on 79′. A beautifully ruthless attacking performance was capped by a Sasman-induced own goal in stoppage time for a whopping eighth tally on the scoresheet and ensuring a complete humiliation for our supposedly formidable opponents. A special result that I’ll put up there with my best ever on FM, and one that gives us enormous confidence that we will emerge from our final matchup with Orlando Pirates victorious. Somehow we followed that result up with another disappointing one in our penultimate league fixture, settling for a 1-1 draw with playoff contenders TS Sporting* at home. We had more trouble in front of goal in the first half, and then went behind against the run of play to Mondli Miya’s sizzling half-volley on 54′. Thankfully we were able to avoid defeat in this one, as third-choice striker Sedwyn George skated past the opposing defense on a counter from their corner and coolly rolled his finish past the wrong-footed keeper. We should probably have lost to a wide-open volley late on, but it was fired just over the bar and we kept hold of the point. Our winless run in the league now stands at four after this, something I’ll hope to rectify against Real Kings in our final game of the season. Though the title is wrapped up, we could break two league records with a win in that game and match another, so there is still something of value on the line other than pride.

The scenes at the Cape Town Stadium once we got our hands on the First Division trophy.

League Table

The gap to Tshakhuma was made insurmountable with two games to play, and we could still win the league by as many as ten points. Tshakhuma have secured a playoff spot, with either Cape Umoya or TS Sporting set to join them depending on how the last round of fixtures go. As described in a previous post, the playoff teams will face the 15th-placed team from the Premiership in a mini-league, with the “champion” either keeping their place or going up, depending on who it is.

Mbombela have continued their incredible form, rising all the way up to 6th from 11th at the last update. They’ve climbed above the likes of Real Kings, Royal Eagles, and Richards Bay, all of whom were playoff contenders that fell off in the last couple of months.

Maccabi are the first team to suffer relegation, and there are still four different clubs who could join them with one game to play. Witbank Spurs are currently in the second drop spot, but a win for them could save them if either Jomo Cosmos- who are on great form at the moment- or Stellenbosch- who are on terrible form at the moment- drop points. It’s certainly shaping up to be a tense final day on that front.

The Nedbank Cup final will be live-blogged in a separate post here on FtCS, which will be followed by a season review. Winning a double without even being in the top flight would be quite the achievement, and our results have been more than worthy of it, so let’s go on and win it!

Gaan! Gaan! Gaan!

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