Cape Town - Milano United are four games away from promotion to the Premier Soccer League (PSL).
The Grassy Park-based National First Division (NFD) team is involved in a three-way play-off competition with Black Leopards and Polokwane City. The eventual winner will secure a place in the top-flight next season.
For Milano, the action kicks off on Wednesday when they host Polokwane at the Athlone Stadium (kick-off 7.30pm) - and coach Theo Hempe admits his main priority over the next few weeks is not so much tactical or technical, but more mental.
“We were leading the NFD for a long time at the beginning of the season,” said Hempe. “But the pressure eventually got to the youngsters in the squad. It’s to be expected when you work with such young kids.
“But I was happy with the way the team responded after going 2-0 down to Chippa on Sunday, to fight back and win 3-2… I couldn’t have asked for more.
“But now we have to use that momentum as we go into the play-offs. We have four matches, we know what we have to do. In play-offs such as these, anything is possible. But we remain positive, we are confident.”
Some advice Hempe can use is something often alluded to by neighbouring Ajax Cape Town coach, Roger de Sa.
When questioned about pressure at press conferences this season, De Sa’s stock response was always: “The only pressure I’m under is the pressure I put on myself.”
For Milano’s youngsters, and for Hempe, there’s more than a grain of veracity to take from that philosophy.
It’s especially the away trips that could prove daunting for the Grassy Park side. They will have to travel to the Limpopo Province twice, as both Leopards and Polokwane are based in that region. And, as any PSL club can attest, it’s not an easy trip, even more so from a Cape Town perspective.
“Playing away is key, of course,” admitted Hempe. “But we have a plan and we will prepare accordingly. We know we will have to be at our best.”
It is, however, also critical that Milano focus on one game at a time. They cannot start worrying about playing away when they haven’t even negotiated their home games, starting, of course, with tomorrow’s opening fixture at Athlone.
Polokwane have the experience of playing in the PSL, and they will be looking to utilise all their suss and streetwise knowledge to put one over NFD upstarts Milano.