CAPE TOWN - New Ajax Cape Town coach Muhsin Ertugral faces a painful and emotional meeting with former club Orlando Pirates when the two sides meet at the Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday night (kick-off 7.30pm).
To compound matters, Pirates are sitting in the top three of the PSL standings, while Ajax remain stuck second-from-bottom. The Cape side, after a 0-0 draw with Free State Stars last Friday night, can ill-afford to drop more points at home. And, while there may have been some on-field improvement with regard to performance, the results just have not been coming.
Ertugral would be forgiven if he is feeling a sense of déjà vu. His spell at Pirates was just as frustrating - so much so that, after a 6-1 defeat to SuperSport United in November 2016, he quit his job at the Buccaneers during the post-match interview on national television.
If there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel, though, it certainly showed itself in the stalemate against Stars on Friday. While there were no goals, there was a lot to like about the Cape team’s offensive play, especially with debut man Yannick Zakri turning in an eye-catching display.
The Ivorian striker, on a six-month loan at Ajax from Mamelodi Sundowns, was simply superb on the night. He is definitely the spark Ajax have been looking for up front, and he is likely to play a major role in Ertugral’s plans for Pirates on Wednesday.
“Zakri doesn’t lose the ball easily,” said Ertugral. “He is an extremely good player. It will get even better, though, when his teammates understand how he wants the ball. On Friday, they often played in to his feet, but you can see from the way he opens his body that he wants it in the channel. Once he settles and adapts, he, and the team, will be even better.”
Ertugral will also be hoping for a positive outcome at Monday's special PSL hearing with regard to the availability of his other new signing, Tendai Ndoro. Ironically, the fact that the Zimbabwean played for Pirates earlier this season is part of the problem. According to Fifa statutes, a player cannot register for three clubs in the same season - Ndoro has played for Pirates and Saudi Arabian club Al Faisaly already.
Overall, though, Ertugral remains positive, despite Ajax’s difficulties, and is confident of a good result against Pirates on Wednesday.
“It was a tough game against Stars on Friday, it’s easy to see why they are so high on the table,” said the Ajax coach. “So I have to balance things this week. Mental fatigue is an issue and rest is just as important.
“But it’s looking better. We’ve changed the defensive pattern to zonal marking and it’s working. The build-ups are also improving, now it’s just our work in the final third that is a problem. We need to be more calm.”