JOHANNESBURG - Granted the battle for the Absa Premiership title is exciting. What with no less than four clubs (possibly five) still in the running?

But there is an equally fascinating, if not more intriguing battle, taking place in the National First Division (NFD). For, you see, while the likes of Cape Town City, Bidvest Wits, Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns (should I include SuperSport United?) are chasing local football’s Holy Grail, down in the second tier league the fight is for a much bigger cause.

Promotion from the NFD makes a huge difference in a club’s life. It is the difference from receiving a meagre R380 000 monthly grant to getting a R1.5m allowance as well as access to a potential R11m in knockout cup competitions prize money.

This season though, NFD clubs are literally fighting for the scraps that are the two play-off spots, with Thanda Royal Zulu seemingly headed for automatic promotion having dominated the season from the onset.

Amabhubhesi enjoy a healthy nine point lead at the top of the table with just five matches to go and while their lead cannot be described as unassailable, it would take a massive implosion on their part for anyone to overtake them.And thus it is the two play-off spots that no less than seven teams are fighting to earn.

One of those is former Premiership side Black Leopards, who are desperate for a return to elite football after a four-year absence having been relegated in the 2012/13 season. David Thidiela’s side have had a decent season and should make the play-offs if they keep at it.

They are at Jomo Cosmos tonight though, a tricky encounter steeped in history. Out in the East Rand where they meet tonight, Leopards once put an end to Cosmos’ status as an elite league side. Jomo Sono would not have forgotten that dark night at Daveyton’s Sinaba Stadium where Lidoda Duvha beat his team to ensure yet another relegation for Ezenkosi.

Renowned in the past for spoiling other clubs’ title aspirations, Sono would no doubt love to put paid to Leopards’ hopes of at least making the play-offs.

Sure Sono's team are set for yet another season in the NFD, but they’d definitely like to finish higher than the 11th spot they currently are in, and how grand it would be to do that while ensuring Leopards stay down with them?

There is and never has been, after all, any love lost between the two sides, and tonight’s encounter is sure to be pretty intense. As will the rest of the matches involving other promotion hopefuls, as they strive to secure a play-off spot or better still, usurp Thanda.

The Star

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