CAPE TOWN - Ajax Cape Town will have to do without goalkeeper Brandon Petersen for Saturday's opening round Telkom Knockout tie against Polokwane City at the Peter Mokaba Stadium. But, such is the strength of the Cape club’s goalkeeping department that they are able to call on a more than capable replacement in Jody February.
Petersen, 23, February, 21 and Darren Johnson, 20, are three of South Africa’s most promising young net-minders. February had a stint as the No 1 last season before being ousted by Petersen. And, while Petersen has been in good form of late, February will definitely view this as an opportunity to regain possession of the goalkeeper jersey when he returns to the Ajax starting team tomorrow.
Petersen has a hip injury and head coach Stanley Menzo, with a long season still ahead, is not prepared to take a risk on the player. February’s inclusion doesn’t weaken the team in any way - and, if the game goes to a penalty shoot-out, the 21-year-old will definitely be an asset. Remember that February almost single-handedly took the SA Under-23 squad to last year’s Rio Olympics with some heroic saves in a penalty shoot-out.
Menzo, in fact, admitted that, despite this Cup competition being important with regards to confidence, he had to keep one eye on upcoming PSL games. With Ajax scheduled to play a PSL match next Wednesday, the former Ajax Amsterdam and Netherlands keeper wasn’t prepared to gamble on players who were carrying injuries. He would rather rest them for Saturday's Cup clash, to ensure they were ready for league action. In addition to Petersen, the other player carrying a niggle and given a break is central defender Isaac Nhlapo.
“I was thinking of giving a few other players a rest, but the squad is feeling so good after last week’s win that it’s obvious they want to play again,” said Menzo. “It’s perhaps better that we stay with the momentum and keep them going. Every match at this moment is important - it’s not easy, but we have to get the team’s confidence back.
“We played Polokwane at home earlier in the season and it was a win for us. But they have improved since then and we are away from home. They’ve changed the way they play from what I’ve seen recently - instead of playing through the middle, they like to go wide now. But, for us, we will stick to what we know.”
Ajax’s problems over the last few seasons have been rooted in the team’s inability to perform well on the road. While they have managed to find a measure of consistency at home, the moment they are taken out of their comfort zone things go awry.
It’s an issue uppermost in the mind of Menzo - and he’s hoping to change the team’s fortunes away from home. The last time Ajax travelled to Limpopo they decided to change their routine. They flew up earlier than usual, got on the bus for the long journey, and then had their final training session in Polokwane. Menzo believes that’s the best way to tackle the difficult trip - and that’s the way they will do it this time too.
“We have struggled when we play away but it has to change,” said Menzo. “We have to bring the belief we can win on the road. It’s in the psychology - it’s what’s in the players’ heads.
“Often on away trips, in terms of preparation, it’s the small changes that matter. The last time we had a training session in Polokwane a day before the game, it worked better so that’s how we will do it again.”