CAPE TOWN - Cape Town City go into the two-week international break with a slender one-point lead at the summit of the PSL standings, while neighbours Ajax Cape Town can certainly do with the hiatus to inject some confidence into their squad.
Both clubs registered draws at the weekend - Ajax 2-2 against a spirited Free State Stars at Athlone Stadium on Friday, and City a hard-fought goalless stalemate away to Bloemfontein Celtic on Saturday.
While the point was enough to take City back to the top of the PSL log, they have played more games than the other title-contenders. The Cape club have accumulated 39 points (21 games), followed by Wits on 38 (19 games), SuperSport United 37 (20 games), Kaizer Chiefs 36 (21 games) and defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns 34 points (17 games). One thing’s certain, the PSL is in for a real nail-biting conclusion when the season hits the final sprint in two months’ time.
City had a real tough time of it in Bloemfontein on Saturday against a determined, motivated Celtic. It was an encounter that could have gone either way, with chances aplenty for both sides, and, in the end the Cape club’s head coach, Eric Tinkler, was more than happy with the point.
“I think the confidence has gone to a degree,” said Tinkler. “In the first half, we looked lethargic and we really struggled to link up play. They (Celtic) were winning the second balls and they caused us problems in the first half. We were no reflection of what we were in that first half.
“The second half, though, was slightly better. We created more chances, we were more compact and we started to have a little bit more width. Possibly we could have stolen it, but overall we deserved at least a point. And an away point is better than nothing”
While the City squad can have a bit of a breather during the break, there will be no rest for captain Lebogang Manyama and goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters. The duo are in the Bafana Bafana squad for friendlies against Guinea-Bissau and Angola on 25 and 28 March respectively. The games are warm-up matches for the South African national football squad ahead of a busy period which will involve qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Both Manyama and Walters have earned Bafana recalls because of their outstanding performances for City this season - and they will view these friendlies as a chance to nail down a more permanent position in the national squad.
As for Ajax, while coach Stanley Menzo was happy with the manner in which the team fought back with 10 men, after youngster Grant Magerman was sent off in the 70th minute, he remains unhappy with his team’s penchant for conceding soft goals.
Against Stars, as it has been all season long, the Urban Warriors allowed a period of dominance to be spoilt by a gratuitous error. This time, it was a wayward pass from goalkeeper Jody February that allowed the opposition in. But Menzo, nevertheless, had some sympathy for the young goalkeeper.
“As a goalkeeper myself, I know those moments,” said the former Ajax Amsterdam and Netherlands No 1. “The important thing in such situations is to tell yourself that there is nothing you can do about it, it’s over. You just have to go on Jody did that, and that was good. As for the break now, it probably comes at a good time. It will allow the players some rest and recovery, especially those struggling with small injuries.”
Ajax are currently in 12th position on the standings with 22 points. Below them are Celtic and Stars (the two Free State clubs), Highlands Park and Baroka FC.