His claim to fame in the coaching world is that of an emergency man, a miracle worker when the chips are down.

That's Mlungisi "Professor" Ngubane, now rotund, but formerly a multi-talented player who could do anything with a football but make it answer his cellphone.

His mastery at set pieces in a career spanning the 1970s and 80s has not been equalled in this country. There was seldom a defensive wall solid enough to stop Ngubane from curling the ball into the net.

He left many of the game's top goalkeepers with egg on their faces after wrapping his intelligent left foot around the ball.

Top English-born goalkeepers Peta Balac (Kaizer Chiefs) and Mark Harrison (Hellenic) can attest to that after having been beaten by spectacular free kicks from near the halfway line during the 1984 season.

This weekend the charismatic Tembisa Classic coach takes on the might of Orlando Pirates in the Absa Cup semifinals, and he is pumped up for some more giant killing.

At the helm of the star-studded Buccaneers is Kosta Papic with a CV of high note. But the Professor is not in the least perturbed. He says he loves nothing more than to outshine the legion of foreign coaches in the Castle Premiership.

Classic were tottering on the brink of disaster a few months ago when former Bafana Bafana mentor Trott Moloto was shown the door for the umpteenth time in his coaching career.

Ngubane stepped in and took no more than a fortnight to knock his new team into winning shape. Top on his list of achievements in the short space of time are successes over Kaizer Chiefs, Santos (in the league as well as the last eight of the cup) and Ajax Cape Town in a last-16 cup tie.

Suddenly teams are no longer taking anything for granted when Classic trot on to the field.

The KwaZulu-Natal-based club now have a genuine opportunity to avoid relegation and, should things continue to go their way, it could well be Ngubane - and not Papic - who wears the cup final rosette in a few weeks' time.

"That would be a wonderful day for everyone connected to the club," said Ngubane on Wednesday. "However, my biggest task is to keep the players level-headed while also instilling the necessary confidence.

"First prize will obviously be to retain our status in the top flight. I am sure many people would agree that, based on the way we have played in recent times and our support base, we have become a credit to the league. We have been able to attract big names to the club and that augurs well for the future.

"As far as the cup is concerned, making it to the final would be great, and winning it would be a double bonus."

Ngubane came under fire for ignoring the undoubted talents of one big name: former Pirates star Steve Lekoelea. But his motives for sidelining the temperamental playmaker were genuine and has clearly paid dividends.

"Steve was not match fit at the time. But look at him now and you'll see why I did what I did. It was a gamble as the fans could well have taken things the wrong way. But they showed me the respect that any coach needs if he is to do his job properly.

"Thankfully things have worked out for the better."

Of the resurgence of former Ajax, Santos and Hellenic star Bradley August, Ngubane said: "Bradley wants to play for me. The key is that I am playing him in a sensible position in the middle of the park.

"I am getting the best out of him because I am not asking him to do something that he can't deliver, like face the league's fast men in the left back position.

"He gives the side the correct shape and has developed the knack to arrive at the right moments to score crucial goals with his powerful shooting."

Ngubane is finding it difficult to understand "the unsporting manners of some of the foreign coaches", saying that, other than Santos coach Roger de Sa, whom he beat twice in recent weeks, the "big" names did not bother to shake hands after matches.

"I suppose they'd rush over to do it if they managed to hammer you, but not if you turn the tables on them or if they only managed a draw or a narrow victory.

"I find that in very poor taste, and that's why I get this huge thrill when we do get a result against teams that boast a foreign coach."