“What pressure? You guys invent that pressure,” replied Cape Town City coach Eric Tinkler when asked by a journalist if the players had buckled under the expectation of winning the title.
Instead it was just an off-day when the team failed to pitch up, said the coach after City lost 1-0 at Maritzburg United on Monday.
“The boys are hurting. I don’t think it’s a case of not wanting to perform. For whatever reason it just didn’t happen.” said Tinkler.
That result saw the Citizens drop to third place, behind defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns, after Bidvest Wits edged the Brazilians by the same score and leapfrogged both sides to go top of the Absa Premiership standings.
One point separates each of the teams, although City have four games left, one less than the leading pair from Gauteng.
Because newly-formed City surprised the form book to be among the title contenders, they shouldn’t suffer the burden of expectation, reasoned Tinkler.
“Obviously our targets and objectives are totally different to where we find ourselves right now. For that reason there should be no fear to want to play because the pressure is not on you. The pressure is on Sundowns, Wits, SuperSport, Chiefs and Pirates.
“We’ve done exceptionally well and I’m proud of the team and what we’ve achieved, but (against Maritzburg) we let ourselves down.
“There’s still four games to go. Every game is important. We explained that we needed at least 13 points from our last five. That means we couldn’t lose a game, so that tells a story on its own,” said Tinkler.
Speaking before the Clever Boys’ victory over Sundowns, Tinkler felt that regardless of the outcome of that clash there were still five matches for his rivals to play, and that if they regrouped, the Citizens could sneak back in.
However, he believed Sundowns enjoyed a favourable run-in compared to Wits. “Sundowns have a game in hand, and so do Wits.
“Someone there have to drop points, or both of them. Wits have a few difficult games, but I still think Sundowns are favourites right now, because their run-in are games you would expect them to win.”
Following the first league defeat of the year, their first upset in 11 games, City tackle Free State Stars at the Cape Town Stadium in the Mother City on Friday.
Thereafter, they visit SuperSport United, host Golden Arrows and close against Polokwane City. Compared to Wits and Sundowns, City have more rest days in between their matches, and could find themselves back in the hunt if their rivals drop points.
Tinkler’s Maritzburg counterpart, Fadlu Davids, meanwhile, praised his side for restricting City’s play and enhancing their chances of a top-eight finish.
The tactical discipline and fighting spirit was a work in progress, begun by former coach Ernst Middendorp last season, said Davids.
He credited City for their overall performance and believes they are still in the race. “I still think they have a chance. They are a fantastic team. They really took the PSL by storm this season and they still have a chance to win it.”
That chance could improve, if the Team of Choice upset Wits in Joburg on Sunday.