Johannesburg – When Cavin Johnson left Platinum Stars ahead of the start of this season, there were plenty predicting doom and gloom down Bafokeng way.
Not about to hop on that particular bandwagon, however, was Stars veteran defender Benson Mhlongo.
“A lot of people said that, I don’t entertain those people,” said Mhlongo bluntly on Thursday. “I am a football player, anyone can coach me … my job is to focus on my game and my teamwork and help whoever is in charge.”
With this kind of attitude, it is perhaps easier to see how Stars’ transition under Allan Freese this season has proved so seamless. The new Stars head honcho has been an assistant coach at Dikwena as far back as the Silver Stars days, but the step up can often prove tricky – and it looked particularly so this campaign, with Johnson leaving Absa Premiership runner-up shoes to fill.
From Mhlongo’s words, however, Freese and assistant coach Willem Jackson clearly have the support of the players. “Freese is easy to work with,” says Mhlongo.
“Last season I was working with him a lot … he has not changed too much. There are a few things, but you don’t fix something that is not broken. I know him (Freese) and Jackson, they were good players and everyone deserves a chance in this world, you have to start somewhere.”
And it has been so far, so good for Freese, as Stars have gone five games unbeaten in the Absa Premiership, lying just a point off the pace, while they are also in an excellent position to reach the final of the MTN8. Dikwena face Wits in the second leg of the semifinal on Tuesday night, with a 4-2 lead from the first leg.
Stars’ progress in the league this season has been founded on a solid defence, with just two goals conceded. Mhlongo and his teammates have kept clean sheets in their last couple of games, with a 1-0 win over Tuks on Wednesday night propelling them up the table.
“We have been talking about it, because the goals we conceded when we started were soft goals,” said Mhlongo. “So we have been trying our best keep clean sheets, and then you can win 1-0.”
Before Wits in the MTN8, Stars face Kaizer Chiefs in league action tomorrow night (FNB Stadium, 8.15pm), the side that pipped them to the title last season. Despite Amakhosi’s success, Stars’ results against them were good, winning in Phokeng and drawing at Chiefs.
“It’s a new ball game with a new coach, we can’t be overconfident. They are a good team. We just have to go there with respect and do our part and fight to try and win the league,” said Mhlongo.
“I was watching their game against Maritzburg (Chiefs won 2-0). It will be a hell of a game and we will have to work hard.” Ultimately, however, going one step further than last season is very much on Mhlongo’s mind.
Fixtures (3pm unless stated)
Tomorrow: Swallows v Maritzburg, Dobsonville; Sundowns v Wits, Loftus, 6pm; Chiefs v P Stars, FNB, 8.15pm; AmaZulu v SuperSport, Moses Mabhida, 8.15pm
Sunday: Tuks v Arrows, Tuks Stadium; Polokwane City v Ajax, Peter Mokaba Stadium.