Can Baroka pull off another surprise?
JOHANNESBURG – Baroka FC may be languishing in the bottom half of the Premiership standings - three points clear from the automatic relegation spot - but their fate in top-flight football lies in their hands.
Following their promotion six seasons ago, Bakgaga have battled to establish themselves among the elite - having had to fight for survival in almost every campaign.
Such that even when they achieved the improbable last season by winning the Telkom Knockout, they still had to save their top-flight football status on the last day of the season - Free State Stars got the chop, while Maritzburg United played the play-offs.
But it appears as though the Limpopo-based side haven’t learned anything from their previous experiences as they are 13th on the standings with 23 points and with only six matches left to consolidate their spot in the top division next season.
Their season in a nutshell:
The fact that Baroka are only three points clear from the drop zone doesn’t come as a surprise.
Their downfall this season started when former coach Wedson Nyirenda bemoaned how some of his players were not pulling their weight, especially after dropping more points at home than on the road.
With things going south, the Zambian tendered his resignation during the Christmas recess.
From thereon, enter interim coach Thoka Matsimela. The long-time assistant coach reignited a winning culture which was evident after a 1-0 away win at Cape Town City - he laid a foundation for incoming coach Dylan Kerr. The English-born mentor suffered a defeat to Highlands Park in his first game in charge. But he’s since changed the image of the team - inspiring Bakgaga to the semi-finals of the Nedbank Cup, while he bagged a famous league victory over neighbours Black Leopards in his last outing.
Kerr is an astute player’s coach. His resignation from Leopards at the end of last season was a shock to many, especially after helping striker Mwape Musonda to win the top goalscorer of the season gong. Although he may be a caring older brother to his players, his demands for hard work are unmatched. His troops have accepted the responsibility - they set up a solid defensive unit, keeping two clean sheets in the last two matches.
Credit should go to captain Elvis Chipezeze for leading by example but players such as Gerald Phiri jun have also taken the responsibility baton by the scruff of the neck, making it easier for newbies such as Prince Nxumalo to come to the fore.
What they have done right (strengths):
Baroka may be far from safety but such has been their impressive defensive record that avoiding defeat in their last six matches is a huge possibility.
Bakgaga have conceded 21 goals, the third highest in the league. Goalkeeper Chipezeze has done a sterling job since his disappointing Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) campaign with Zimbabwe but credit should go to the entire team.
Not only have Baroka defended as a team but they’ve formed a formidable unit that has been tough to crack, something that deserves a special mention especially after the unceremonious departure of a cog of the team, Mduduzi Mdantsane, who joined Cape Town City.
What they have done wrong (weaknesses):
Baroka may have a solid defensive structure but their finishing has left a lot to be desired. Richard Mbulu, who’s only missed four league matches this season, is yet to score this season despite being the team’s designated No 9.
However there has been a shortage of supply into the opponent’s half, especially after the loss of Mdantsane who was one of the integral players in the engine room.
With six matches to play before the curtain falls on the season, Kerr will be hoping that his troops bring their scoring boots once the resumption of the season is confirmed by the PSL.
Having had a nightmare outing in the Afcon last year, Chipezeze has taken his game up a notch in domestic football, keeping eight clean sheets in 23 league matches. Chipezeze may be known for his time delaying antics but his presence between the sticks allows his teammates to play with ease. That has given youngsters such as Denwin Farmer ample confidence in their defensive duties.
Remaining six games for Baroka FC
Away from home:
AmaZulu, Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United.
Chippa United and Kaizer Chiefs.
Past five games
Form guide: WLLLW@Mihlalibaleka