TWO-horse race? Two-horse race my foot!
Five league matches ago, sports writers up and down the Great Dyke were putting the finishing touches on print about the decline of Highlanders and Dynamos, preparing for the worst as the Castle Lager sponsored Premier Soccer League (PSL) faced up to the prospect of having a championship race devoid of the two biggest clubs in the land.
Then Dynamos won five matches on the trot. Better still FC Platinum and Motor Action the then run-away leaders conspired to eke out draws after draws, bringing Dynamos back into the picture and throwing a lifeline to dark horses – Highlanders.
Last weekend, many celebrated Motor Actions lose to Caps United, but few cheered Dynamos’ victory over Monomotapa, a victory that thrust them to second position, a point behind FC Platinum and a point ahead of Motor Action.
Highlanders lost to Black Mambas but the gloom that engulfed the Highlanders’ camp had a tinge of hope, as Bosso are a surmountable eight points behind. A difficult, but possible venture that hinges on the unlikely collapse of the leading three.
With six games to go, FC Platinum’s lead over Dynamos has been cut to one, yet to focus on just that would be to miss the bigger picture as Motor Action and Highlanders still have a shout.
It is a four horse race and if you do the math it will confirm that.
FC Platinum are bullish and no one can blame them because, despite being a season into the topflight, they have a team of galacticos and arguably the best coach (Rahman Gumbo) in the land.
But there is a sense that the tide is turning against FC Platinum, who could have been out of sight had they kept their cool. Charles Sibanda as bulked under pressure and he overtly exhibited this when he assaulted and poured urine on Adam Ndlovu the assistant coach of Chicken Inn. The team is made up of star players with egos and a team of personalities usually crumbles when egos get in the way.
On FC Platinum being a real team the jury is still out as most of their wins have been achieved through brilliant individual performances. Whenever they have faced a compact club they have come out second best, the best they have done is draw.
But if there is a team that is really in dreamland it is Dynamos and no one can blame them for doing that after their recent run. The team of the moment, Dynamos have collected 15 points in the last five games and they have done that impressively and only after Callisto Pasuwa replaced the wacky Lloyd Mutasa.
Their strike-force, which was blunt beyond belief and was responsible for most of their failures, has found an edge with Cuthbert Malajila who recently returned from the Libya nightmare bringing out the best in Roderick Mutuma. But their strongest department is the defense well marshaled by the outstanding shot-stopper Washington Arubi.
Considering the form they are in and the restiveness of their usually turbulent board, the obstacle that stands in their way are the difficult matches they have to overcome against Motor Action, FC Platinum and Highlanders. Teams that desire what Dynamos desires. If they come out unscathed in those matches the league championship is good as theirs.
The PSL was ready to engrave the name Motor Action on the league championship cup not long ago but had to put back the engraving pen after Motor Action climbed two places down the log to position three.
Allen Gahadzikwa’s energy, goals and creativity are essential to Motor Action’s bid to retain the title, but it is also true that theirs is a more compact and disciplined squad that relies more on teamwork than those of FC Platinum, Dynamos and Highlanders.
Coach Joey Antipas has built a team that will challenge for the title seasons to come, ruling out such a team because it has momentarily stumbled could be suicide.
Unlike FC Platinum, Dynamos and Motor Action, Highlanders do not have control of their own destiny because even in they win all their remaining games they might not be champions.
If Antipas feels that Motor Action have got it bad, he would not need to look far to see that Highlanders have got it even worse. Coach Mkhuphali ‘Mr Cooper’ Masuku is reported to have lost the support and respect of his assistant Mark Mathe who is said to be questioning Mr Cooper’s tactics.
Mathe is alleged to have strained the working relationship further by countering Mr Cooper’s instructions during matches – with such a coaching department opponents need not train when they prepare to face Highlanders.
Despite being fourth on the log it has not been an entirely happy season for Mr Cooper. The Highlanders coach has been taunted throughout the season with a section of Bosso fans deriding him and questioning his reign. Working in such a hostile environment would rattle any coach and Mr Cooper is no exception.
But if you are a coach you have to adapt and thrive even in the most hostile of conditions, Mr Cooper’s failure is a sign that he is not suitable to manage Highlanders. Hostile environment aside some of his match altering decisions have gone against Highlanders.
Despite promising early signs, the former Warriors player has failed to back his appointment as permanent coach with results when it mattered. It will take more than a winning run in the last six games to rebuild Mr Cooper’s tattered reputation.
Highlanders still have a chance to win the league but at Bosso expectations have dimmed and fans look forward to the day he will be fired. For most Mr Cooper’s stay has turned into a crisis, the day he is fired the catastrophe that Highlanders are in might end. Such an argument is made with Dynamos in mind, Dynamos fired the infective Mutasa and his replacement, Pasuwa has been on the roll and Dynamos have been the winner.
From the time he was appointed critics believed be was riding on Mohammed Fathi’s momentum and the scenario now suggests that they were right. It looks as if his adventure with Highlanders came to an end the moment it started.
If Highlanders are to maintain the chance to win the league they should part ways with their incapable and uninspiring coach.