By John Goliath
Ajax Cape Town coach Craig Rosslee says the debacle around Mkhanyiseli Siwahla and the alleged dressing-room brawl will bring the team closer and make them even hungrier to win the league title this season.
Hopefully, though, Moroka Swallows won't spoil their appetite when the two teams square off in a crucial Premiership match at the Athlone Stadium tomorrow night.
This week must have been one of the most testing for Rosslee in his short coaching career in the top flight. After he won the well-deserved honour of being named Coach of the Month for December 2008, he had to prepare the team amidst allegations of a dressing-room fight.
Siwahla was at the centre of this controversy, alleging that Ajax team mates had assaulted him after the January 7 game against Cape rivals Santos.
He then absconded from training, pleaded guilty to this at his disciplinary hearing and was subsequently fined and put on the transfer list.
No proof of a brawl or a fight has come to light and, according to Ajax, there was an argument about Siwahla's commitment on the park but no punches were ever thrown.
With this saga seemingly out of the way, Rosslee had to get his players focused on the job at hand against the Dube Birds after their 2-0 loss to struggling Maritzburg United.
"A good argument or disagreement could be a good thing for the team," Rosslee said yesterday. "I think the air has been cleared and my players have grown and come out stronger.
"It is a good sign that players don't accept guys who do not give 100 percent on the field. That shows this team is fully behind the club's main objective of winning the league and in this dressing room it's not good enough to perform below par," Rosslee added.
Besides going into the match on the back of the loss against Maritzburg and the disciplinary hearings this week, Ajax are also without star striker Mabhudi Khenyeza.
Khenyeza, who is one of four Ajax players in the Bafana Bafana squad for Tuesday's training match against Zambia, has been suspended for two matches after receiving a red card against Maritzburg. However, Rosslee believes they will cope in his absence.
"If we just rely on Mabhudi to score, then we are on the wrong track," he said. "We have four or five strikers in the squad that are getting paid to score goals and not to watch Mabhudi score.
"Obviously his absence is a blow to us, but everybody needs to contribute and they have done it in many of the previous matches," Rosslee said.
Ajax are under pressure to get maximum points and regain the lead in the Premiership table after SuperSport United went to the top following their victory over Maritzburg on Wednesday. Rosslee believes his players are relishing the pressure of the league race and have shown this season that they can deal with adversity.
"SuperSport were under pressure before Wednesday and they responded well. Pressure is good and is something that brings out the best in you. We were in the same sort of situation last year and hopefully we have learned from the mistakes," Rosslee added.
Meanwhile, Santos coach David Bright says they are "going out hunting" when they travel to rookies Bay United in Port Elizabeth tomorrow.
"We are going out hunting for points and we don't want to come back empty-handed," he told the Cape Times. "But it's going to be a tricky fixture. We have been watching them and they are a very determined team, especially when they play at home."
Santos might have been in a pretty good position on the log, but defensive blunders at crucial times in matches have left them in eighth with 23 points. Bright knows every point is vital in this season's title race and he has worked hard to rectify the mistakes of the past.
"We have been working hard to iron out our mistakes and defensive errors that the boys are committing.
"But it's getting better and I have asked technical director Boebie Solomons to work with the defenders while I work with the strikers on their finishing.
"We hope by tomorrow that everything will come together and the team will deliver a good performance," Bright added.