CAPE TOWN - Benni McCarthy has always been vocal about the fact that he is really looking forward to this season. With one year under the belt as Cape Town City head coach, he is of the opinion that the experience gained will place him in good stead for the campaign ahead.
Now, just 12 days into the season, he has already had to draw on all his budding coaching potential to keep the City machine moving smoothly. Experience, as they say, is the greatest teacher. City are back in action when they host Golden Arrows in a PSL fixture at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday (6pm kickoff) - but, looking back at a hectic opening period, McCarthy will certainly feel he has negotiated the choppy waters rather well.
With everything looking rosy for the Cape side after an opening day 2-0 win over SuperSport United in the league, the challenges then came thick and fast. Injuries to Edmilson Dove, Kwanda Mngonyama, Ebrahim Seedat and Teko Modise had McCarthy scratching his head to find solutions. With no left-back available, he had no choice but to shift new centre-back Kouassi Kouadja to the left side of defence and bring in promising but inexperienced 20-year-old Keanu Cupido.
The changes unsettled the team during the opening few minutes in the next game away to Baroka FC, and City ended up on the losing side. It was then on to the MTN8 quarter-finals at the weekend, which was a tough, bruising away game against Maritzburg United. Again, there were problems for McCarthy, this time with some really brutal tackling from the opposition.
Captain Thamsanqa Mkhize was rushed to hospital after a clash of heads, while striker Siphelele Mthembu was stretchered off after a crude challenge. But McCarthy’s men dug deep, they fought hard, and emerged victorious to secure a place in the semi-finals of the MTN8.
McCarthy admitted he was relieved to have seen off what was a tough opening few days to the new season. Now, and especially with City back at home to play Arrows on Saturday, he is keen on seeing the team play with the flow and rhythm they produced in the opening day win over SuperSport.
“Last week was a tough week for us,” said McCarthy. “It’s never easy playing three matches in the space of eight days, but the boys have really put their heads down and soldiered through it. We now face a Golden Arrows side that played well in their first match and were unlucky in their second match against Bloem Celtic.
"We obviously come off a tough win over Maritzburg in the MTN8, which was a morale booster for us after such a difficult trip to Baroka. We are back at home and that’s something that always favours us. It’s another match where we can’t afford to drop points; we expect a good performance and three more points.”
While McCarthy will be hoping his injured players have recovered by Saturday, he does have the consolation of knowing there is sufficient depth in his squad. As already seen with young Cupido’s rise to prominence, there is cover in defence, in attack the coach has been able to rotate Mthembu and Matthew Rusike, and out wide there are quite a few options in Riyaad Norodien, Surprise Ralani, Craig Martin, Gift Links and Allan Kateregga.
Arrows will provide stern competition on Saturday. They’re an organised, disciplined team with a deadly counter-attack strategy. McCarthy will be aware of this, which is why he will be impressing on his players the need for shape and focus when they lose the ball.