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Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson likes to refer to this part of the season as “squeaky-bum time”.
And over his long career, the wily old Scot has more often than not prevailed during this period, when champions usually hold their nerve and spray champagne after winning the title, while the also-rans end up crying inconsolably.
Last season we had a proper “squeaky-bum” finish to the Absa Premiership, and of course we all know where the bubbly was sprayed and where tissues were handed out.
On the last day of last season Orlando Stadium hosted the biggest party in South Africa, when Orlando Pirates annexed the trophy. While, at Cape Town Stadium, the atmosphere bordered on depressing as Ajax Cape Town first league title literally slipped through Hans Vonk’s fingers.
This season Ajax aren’t part of the teams gunning for the title with the likes of Pirates, but Bucs’ winger Daine Klate believes the painful memories of that fateful winters day will be the Urban Warriors’ biggest motivating factor when the two teams clash at Cape Town Stadium tonight.
“Of course Ajax are going to be looking for revenge after we pipped them to the title last season,” Klate told the Cape Times on Thursday. “I heard their party was already planned, so I am sure they now want to spoil our party!”
Stage fright got the better of Ajax in their last two matches of the season, as they had their destiny in their own hands. They lost 4-0 to Kaizer Chiefs in their penultimate league fixture, before drawing 2-2 with Maritzburg United on the last day after leading 1-0, eventually losing out on the title on goal difference to Pirates.
That opened the door for the Buccaneers, who scored to late goals in their last two matches, including Isaac Chansa’s fearsome strike against Golden Arrows, to eventually snatch the title.
And it’s that sort of experience, the know-how that could be difference for Pirates at the end of this season. And a win over Ajax tonight will certainly make Tuesday’s crunch match with title rivals SuperSport United a more comfortable affair, especially if the former champions lose to Kaizer Chiefs tomorrow at the FNB Stadium.
“We are more confident than last season,” Klate said about the mood in the Pirates camp going into the title run-in. “It will absolutely make a difference to our season if we can go back to Johannesburg with three points from Cape Town. It will set us up nicely for the match against SuperSport next week. These six points are crucial if we want to defend our title,” Klate said.
Pirates have a good record against Ajax in Cape Town, but last season’s 3-0 defeat at Newlands is still fresh in their memory.
However, this Ajax are far from the team that defended with gusto, counter-attacked with pace and finished their chances brilliantly that night. Ill-discipline has also been a worrying feature of their season, with no fewer than six red cards so far in the campaign.
Ajax will be without Khama Billiat when they take on Pirates after he was sent off in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at SuperSport United.
But, the light rain forecasted for the match might be a great leveller, as well as the fact that for some reason the Cape side’s lift their game to unprecedented heights when they take the Soweto Giants at home. – Cape Times