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A good coach is measured by how he copes when the pressure is on. How he adapts tactically, and inspires psychologically, in the face of extreme adversity.
Neil Tovey ticked all the right boxes on Saturday night when his Thanda Royal Zulu team came back from the dead to defeat Santos 2-1 and, in so doing, kept alive their hopes of promotion to the Premier Soccer League (PSL).
After an opening loss (to Santos) and a draw (with Chippa United), First Division Thanda went into Saturday’s match rock-bottom of the PSL’s promotion play-offs log.
But those who had written them off, those who had already begun carving their epitaph, had not reckoned with the Richards Bay side’s fantastic fighting spirit, nor had they taken into account Tovey’s credentials as coach and motivator.
Now, on Wednesday, at home in Richards Bay (kick-off 2pm), Thanda take on Chippa in their final play-off fixture – and a victory would put them in pole position for a spot in the PSL next season.
The final play-off match sees Santos face Chippa in Philippi on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 3pm).
At Athlone, over the weekend, Santos were quick out of the box in the opening 45 minutes, racing to a 1-0 lead courtesy of a superb header from Nasief Morris. At that stage, it looked like Santos would run away with the match. But, at half-time, Tovey settled his men down, changed things tactically, and encouraged, cajoled and galvanised his team.
And, in the same way that Tovey was accustomed to inspiring those around him when he was Bafana Bafana captain, Thanda’s players took heart from his words, and they came out renewed and enlivened in the second half. They quickly took the lead through headed goals from captain Asanda Mvalo and Edwin Sitayitayi, and then withstood a strong onslaught from Santos, as the Capetonians threw everything into trying to get back on terms.
Afterwards, Tovey said: “We were buried, and people were talking about us not even having a chance. They were only talking about Santos and Chippa ... but I don’t think so anymore.” – Cape Argus