Johan Neeskens’ hang-dog expression is an almost permanent fixture on the Mamelodi Sundowns bench. Right now, however, it appears entirely appropriate, with the end surely nigh for the Brazilians coach.
A group of Sundowns supporters invaded the pitch after Sunday’s ignominious defeat to Moroka Swallows, throwing missiles and knocking over the team dugouts, disgraceful behaviour sure to have their club in front of a Premier Soccer League DC.
While the fans’ behaviour is inexcusable, their anger is understandable. Sundowns have lost four of their last five league games, and have not won since their opening day defeat of Chippa United. The Brazilians sit third from bottom of the Absa Premiership, ahead of Ajax Cape Town and AmaZulu only on goal difference. For a man with the ambition and sacking prowess of chairman Patrice Motsepe, the axe cannot be too far away from Dutch legend Neeskens’ head.
So many coaches have been removed from the hot seat at Sundowns under Motsepe, that it cannot simply be a coaching problem at Chloorkop. But whether it is also player ill-discipline, or meddling behind the scenes, there is no doubt Neeskens is unable to motivate the men-in-yellow.
Swallows have already been a nemesis to Neeskens this season, knocking his side out on the way to clinching the MTN8 title. But at least those two semi-finals were fairly close. Here, Swallows won while barely breaking a sweat.
Two wonderful goals from Lerato Chabangu and Felix Obada means Zeca Marques has his side back on the league track after two successive defeats. Now he must ensure that his side play at the same level when they are not facing a Sundowns, SuperSport United or Orlando Pirates.
With both Siyabonga Nomvethe and Bennet Chenene out injured and ill respectively for Swallows, Marques handed a first start to new recruit Dikgang Mabalane on the wing yesterday. Rudi Isaacs’ groin strain meant Zimbabwean Gilbert Mapemba filled in at right-back, while Ashraf Hendricks returned in central defence after missing the defeat to AmaZulu in midweek.
For Sundowns, Neeskens once again shuffled his pack after the goalless draw with SuperSport, with Musa Nyatama getting a rare start in place of Themba Zwane, Elias Pelembe coming in for Anthony Laffor, and Eleazar Rodgers getting his first league start of the season for Nyasha Mushekwi.
It was Rodgers who had the best early chance for the Brazilians, heading over from Punch Masenamela’s cross. But Sundowns, just as they had been in the MTN8 semi-finals, were soon sliced apart by Chabangu.
The former Sundowns midfielder played a delightful one-two with Katlego Mashego, before clipping the ball off and over Sandilands, who could not prevent it drifting just under the crossbar and into the net.
Nyatama had yet to play in a league game for Sundowns this season, the midfielder having fallen out of favour after a bright start under Neeskens. Here he linked fairly well in central midfield, one long-range effort flying just over.
Left winger Tebogo Langerman was then guilty of a horrible miss, skewing the ball wide from close in after Greg Etafia had pushed away Hlompho Kekana’s initial effort.
Elias Pelembe’s free-kick was also helped over the bar by Etafia, but it was the Birds who went further in front around 10 minutes before the break. The danger appeared to have been cleared from Mabalane’s cross, but Obada picked up the ball and hammered his shot past Sandilands and in off the underside of the bar. Marques was so excited he stripped off his jacket and hurled it into the air.
One of Sundowns’ main tactics seemed to be to pump long ball towards the head of Rodgers, and again it almost worked, the former Santos striker nodding another effort over the bar. Mashego ought to have wrapped up the win for Swallows just after the break, but with space and time inside the Sundowns area, he chipped his effort over the bar.
Another substitute, Edward Manqele, hit the bar for the Brazilians, but Sundowns are an expensive shambles, and Neeskens looks likely to be the early scapegoat. – The Star