CAPE TOWN – Roland Putsche’s return is more than good reason for Cape Town City coach Eric Tinkler to sport a beaming smile as he contemplates his PSL log-leading team coming up against third-placed Wits at the Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday evening (kickoff 7.30pm).
Influential Austrian midfielder Putsche missed City’s last game through suspension.
Now his availability is crucial for City, especially because central midfield is an area where Wits are particularly strong, with Gavin Hunt able to pick from quality footballers like Xola Mlambo, Granwald Scott, Thabang Monare and Ben Motshwari in this key position.
But with Tinkler able to call on the drive, dynamism and midfield defiance of Putsche, City will certainly be strong enough to cope in this department.
Other squad news is that Mozambican left back Edmilson Dove has recovered from injury, but unfortunately, Putsche’s central midfielder partner Mpho Matsi is still out injured.
Tinkler made no secret of what he thought of Wits, saying the Capetonians were facing “arguably the best team in the league”. As it stands, City have 45 points, followed by Kaizer Chiefs (also 45), Wits 44, Sundowns 41 and SuperSport 37 points.
Importantly, though, as the teams head into tonight’s game, the Clever Boys have two games in hand on the Cape side. And it’s with that in mind that Tinkler is fully aware of how crucial victory is today.
“It’s going to be a tight, really close PSL season,” said Tinkler. “At this stage, for all the teams, from our position at the top all the way to Baroka at the bottom, any defeat right now is a bad defeat.
“But I can assure you that points will be dropped, especially when considering that the teams at the top still have to play each other.
“I don’t think there will be a team running away with the league title this season. And, because of that, do I need to tell you how important Wednesday night’s three points are?”
City’s two star attacking players this season have, undoubtedly, been captain Lebogang Manyama and winger Aubrey Ngoma. Both were really looking forward to tonight’s encounter against Wits.
The two players acknowledged the quality of the opposition, but remained confident that, in the end, the team ethic at the heart of City’s success this season, would carry the day.
“We know what we are up against,” said Manyama. “Wits are a powerful side – but, for us, the performance has always been about the whole team, and it will be no different against Wits. What’s worked for us this season is that we’ve always taken things one game at a time.
“We have seven games remaining, but all our focus is only on the challenge of Wits, nothing else. We are as calm as ever, we will keep going as a team and we will, as always, give it our best shot.”
For Ngoma, it was just about City doing what they have been doing all season long: “I think for every player, it’s about consistency. We just want to carry on where we left off in the last game.
“We know how good Wits are, but we will focus on ourselves. We know what has made us successful this season, and we will continue to do that.”
While City coach Tinkler was lavish in his opinion of Wits, he was, nevertheless, adamant that his team would be up for the challenge.
“Ultimately, this is a really tough match,” said Tinkler. “Wits have a good chance to win the title, and they’ll be looking to capitalise on our weaknesses.
“But we have the self-belief. We’ve had a good season, and we have the confidence, the morale and the team spirit. We will back ourselves, and we will also focus on ourselves and on what we have to do.”
In assessing how Wits coach Hunt is likely to approach the game, Tinkler said his players would have to be on their toes and be prepared for anything.
“Gavin (Hunt) knows he’s only one point behind us, but he has two games in hand,” said the City coach. “He will probably be more than happy just to take a point – but it’s just as important to remember that Wits have the squad to take all three points.
“Gavin has always played a direct form of football, and I don’t think that will change in this game. We can expect to see a lot of balls played into our box and we will have to be ready to deal with it defensively.
“At the same time, though, we are an offensive team, we score goals and that won’t change. I think we have a bit of an advantage in that we have had a longer break between games.” (Wits have just returned from Egypt, where they lost to Smouha in the CAF Confederations Cup).