With three matches to go and just three points separating the log-leading Clever Boys and defending champions Sundowns, we analyse and let you be the judge.
The Clever Boys travel to bogey side Free State Stars on Wednesday night and this is no doubt a potential banana skin given the fact that they’ve never beaten the Bethlehem-based side at Goble Park in the four years Hunt has been the Wits coach. Brian Joffe, the Wits chairman, joked at the club’s award ceremony last year that he wouldn’t lose sleep over failing to win the league as long as they beat Stars, who knocked them out of two domestic competitions last season. Wits then host Polokwane City before facing Kaizer Chiefs in their final league clash.
Although there is probably a bit of anxiety as they edge ever so close to the championship, the atmosphere has never been better. Wits faced a serious test of character last week with three matches in the space of seven days with crucial clashes against Sundowns, Pirates and an improving Maritzburg United outfit. Hunt’s men won all three fixtures 1-0, a classic championship scoreline.
In an unexpected move, Hunt reshuffled the goalkeeping department, bringing veteran Moeneeb Josephs out of the cold and right into the thick of it. Darren Keet had clearly become the preferred choice having returned to SA following a five-year stint abroad, and had displaced Josephs. But in keeping four consecutive clean sheets, Josephs has vindicated his coach as they push for the title. Thulani Hlatshwayo, the Wits captain, is also maintaining an impressively consistent streak despite niggling injuries that kept him out of a game or two this season. The feeling is a few more will step up in the remaining games.
Hunt has claimed the Brazilians have a simpler route to the title considering they only have rookies and relegation candidates Baroka FC on Wednesday, then Maritzburg - with both matches at home - before facing another side desperate to avoid the drop in Highlands Park. On paper, the Wits coach is on to something, but this league is so unpredictable it’s unlikely things will proceed as scripted.
Unlike Wits, there is no real desperation to win the championship, although it would be another feather in their cap to retain their title. Mosimane has described the domestic Premier League as secondary to the CAF Champions League, a trophy he says would be more meaningful to the club than a record eight league titles. Nobody remembers runners-up, which might be motivation enough for the Sundowns players to keep winning their matches to take the race right down to the wire, even though the championship is for Wits to lose.
The Brazilians also have a goalkeeper to thank for clawing their way back up the table after they had to play catch-up due to continental commitments. Denis Onyango, the African Player of the Year (based in Africa), returned from injury recently and kept five straight clean sheets during the month of April and it was no surprise to see him named the Player of the Month on Monday. Sundowns also have an embarrassment of riches, with Themba Zwane closing the void left by Keagan Dolly, who joined France’s Montpelier in January. Ivorian Yannick Zakri appears to be finding his feet just in time to help with the title push and the Champions League defence with two goals in his last two starts for the club.