The indifferent start Bloemfontein Celtic have made to the season doesn’t bother Clint Larsen much, even as Siwelele face yet another tough examination this evening when they host Kaizer Chiefs (Free State Stadium, 7.30pm).
Celtic have suffered two defeats in their four Absa Premiership games – the latest a shock 2-0 loss away to the University of Pretoria at the weekend – but coach Larsen said yesterday he was unperturbed.
“It’s still very early days. We’ve played four games and there’re 26 to go, which is a long way,” the Phunya Sele Sele coach said. He highlighted the fact that Celtic have several new players as the main reason for the Free State side’s early struggle, which has seen them beat only Polokwane City thus far.
“I expected this because we have new players in the side. Guys like Wandisile Letlabika, Letsie Koapeng, Musa Nyatama and Rodrick Mutuma should fire soon and we will get better. It takes a good six games for new players to settle down.”
In spite of collecting four points from a possible 12, Larsen says he’s been encouraged by his team’s performance. “Aside from the Tuks game, we scored in each of the games we played. We have been unfortunate in that we have not taken our chances. We were the better side against Tuks, and lost. Against Free State Stars we drew when we should have won.”
It hardly helps Larsen’s cause that as his team try to find their feet, they face defending champions Chiefs so early in the season. Amakhosi hammered Celtic 3-0 in their last league fixture last season, which went a long way in securing Stuart Baxter the championship.
Chiefs have not made the brightest start to the season but will have travelled to Bloemfontein with their confidence high following Saturday’s 2-0 win over Maritzburg United. This is why Larsen doesn’t buy the story that Amakhosi are in decline, after collecting seven points from a possible 12.
“I’ve watched them play and they play really well. That, for me, is how you judge a team. I don’t just look at the league standings and conclude a team is not doing well. The fact is they are playing good football. They are the defending champions and we go into (tonight’s game) as underdogs,” he said.
But traditionally, Celtic have a great home record, even though they started the season by losing to Mamelodi Sundowns. “At the end of every season when you look at the 15 home matches, we are always up there. We want to keep it that way. These big matches always bring the best out of my players and perhaps facing Chiefs is what we need to kick start our season.”
Larsen also pointed out that his men similarly struggled at the beginning of the last term, but ended up enjoying their best season – finishing fifth and winning a cup. “This is why I’m not worried at all. In the last three seasons we have finished fifth twice. I’m not going to panic because I believe in this team and in what we do. I’m certain that as the season progresses, we will improve just like it’s been the case in recent years.”
(7.30pm unless stated)
Tonight: Ajax v Sundowns, Cape Town Stadium; Celtic v Chiefs, Free State Stadium; Wits v AmaZulu, Bidvest Stadium
Tomorrow: Arrows v FS Stars, King Zwelithini Stadium; SuperSport v Swallows, Lucas Moripe Stadium; Platinum Stars v Tuks, Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace; Pirates v Polokwane City, Orlando; Maritzburg v Aces, Harry Gwala Stadium
Saturday: Swallows v Maritzburg, Dobsonville, 3pm; Sundowns v Wits, Loftus, 5pm; Chiefs v Platinum Stars, FNB Stadium, 8.15pm; AmaZulu v SuperSport, Moses Mabhida Stadium, 8.15pm
Sunday: Tuks v Arrows, Tuks Stadium, 3pm; Polokwane City v Ajax, Peter Mokaba Stadium, 3pm - The Star