While overall the club’s struggle had been the result of many factors, for the Turkish coach it was a case of making sure the defence was solid and that would in turn drive the team’s attacking abilities.
Improvement has been steady and Ajax have certainly looked far better and a lot more solid since Ertugral’s arrival.
In order to shore up the defence and build an improved shape and structure, the coach changed things quite a bit, like shifting captain Mosa Lebusa from left-back to the centre of defence, introducing young Yagan Sasman on the left, and signing the brilliant Siyanda Zwane at right-back.
But despite all the changes, the one constant in the team has been experienced 29-year-old centre-back Mario Booysen.
Booysen returned to the Mother City last year and he’s been a dependable presence in the defence. A leader, an organiser and aerially dominant, Booysen remains one of the first names on Ertugral’s team sheet.
Ajax are in Durban this afternoon to face Golden Arrows in an Absa Premiership fixture at Princess Magogo Stadium (kick-off 3.15pm), and Booysen will again play an important role if the Cape side is to come away with the victory they so desperately need.
“It has been a while since we’ve played, we’ve had a two-week break,” said Booysen.
“But it’s given us time to work on a few aspects of our game. I’m looking forward to the game against Arrows because for us, every game is a cup final now. We know what position we are in and we have to fight for the three points.
“We know that Arrows are not on a high at the moment, but we can’t worry about them - we have to focus on what we have to do.”
Booysen admits the team have been struggling, but he’s confident Ajax can turn it around.
“The break of two weeks gave us time to fix a few things and to improve certain areas of our play,” he said. “Our last game was the Nedbank Cup loss to Pirates and we’ve rectified some of the mistakes we made in that game. We’ve put it behind us - and, despite that loss, there is a good vibe in the team.
“We know what we are fighting for, our recent league form has been good and we just have to build on that. We have to get the three points so that we can lift the team out of the position we are in.”
As for Arrows, the central defender insists there is no cause for disrespect. The PSL is a difficult, unpredictable competition and if a team is complacent in any way, you will come up short.
“Arrows may be struggling but we cannot underestimate anyone we play against. We’ve seen in this league that results can go all sorts of ways. We just have to stick to our game plan.
“We know what Arrows can do, we know what they are about, but football is always about what you do on the day. We have to execute the plans we are working on at training, and make sure that we come away with the three points.”
There will definitely be celebrations in the Arrows camp this afternoon. Whether it’s a single or double celebration is the question, writes Kamlesh Gosai.
Win, lose or draw, the Golden boys of the Arrows reserve team have already been crowned Multichoice Diski Challenge champions. This afternoon after their clash against Bidvest Wits in uMlazi they will receive the trophy and medals for the second time in three editions.
While the youngsters celebrate, further along the N2 their senior brethren head into a “Sunday six-pointer” against Ajax Cape Town in a PSL relegation rumble in KwaMashu.
Defeat for fourth-bottom Arrows at the Princess Magogo Stadium will see the Durban side overtaken by their guests who occupy the penultimate rung on the log ladder.
Arrows coach Clinton Larsen relishes the challenge and is hopeful that the positive vibes from the reserve side will filter through to the senior team, especially since they train as a single unit, often with as many as 36 players.
“We’re thrilled with what they achieved. To do it two out of three seasons with limited resources is an amazing feat. We’re looking for an opportunity to give them playing time in the first team over the next nine games,” said Larsen.
“Velemseni Ndwandwe, Yusuf Jappie, Nduduzo Sibiya, Thabani Zuke have played recently. Sibusiso Sibeko is back from injury and can force his way into the first team, given the number of injuries we currently have.
“Other than injuries or suspensions the kids don’t get the game time we’d like to give them, so these are the situations we enjoy as coaches. Yes it’s forced changes but it forces us to throw the youngsters into the deep end. Most often than not they don’t disappoint,” Larsen elaborated.
The Abafana Bes’thende faithful will pray this is one game where the youngsters in the side can inspire veterans like Limbikani Mzava and Musa Bilankulu to help the team turn the corner.
Larsen is optimistic that if they replicate their performance from the last outing, a 2-1 home defeat to Wits, and eliminate individual errors, they’ll win.
“The team gave us everything we wanted against Wits, offensively and defensively, and the signs are there that it’s a matter of time before we get a win.
“We also hope to play on their desperation. They’re in a catch-22 situation - do they come out and play an open game, or sit back, absorb the pressure and play on the break?
“Whichever way it is we’ve got to impose ourselves and score first, because when we concede first we end up chasing the game and it’s difficult to get back in.”
In today's other PSL match, Chippa United host Orlando Pirates (3.30pm)