JOHANNESBURG - A series of injuries kept Xola Mlambo from being an irreplaceable cog in Gavin Hunt’s engine room at Bidvest Wits last season.
His last one, a hamstring injury towards the latter stages, saw him being nudged out of the starting XI, with the likes of Daylon Claasen, Steven Pienaar and Granwald Scott being roped in to add to the quality that Wits already had in their midfield department going into the current campaign.
At the weekend though, the creative midfield demonstrated glimpses of brilliance in his play as he helped Wits win the Gauteng Champion of Champions title by beating Jomo Cosmos 2-0 in the final at Vosloorus Stadium. Mlambo's showing might have served as an announcement of his return into first team football action.
Mlambo was made captain ahead of his senior players such as Daine Klate, Elias Pelembe and Moeneeb Josephs in a tournament that saw the Premiership champions also beat SuperSport United 1-0 to progress to the final
“It wasn’t an easy tournament to play in because we also played against a side such as SuperSport, who are in this year’s MTN8 final and Cosmos, who’ve been a fantastic form in domestic league campaign as well, and I’m just glad we were able to come out with the win,” said Mlambo who won Player of the Tournament award.
“Things have not been easy (following his return from injury). Everybody has been brilliant and that makes it really hard to break into the first team again. But coach Gavin is a very smart coach. He knew what he was doing when he gave me the captain’s armband.
"Perhaps that decision had an influence in me scooping both the man-of-the-match and Player of the Tournament accolades Who knows? I know though that It has certainly lifted my confidence going forward.”
This season though, Wits have struggled to hit the ground running, with the Braamfontein outfit failing to to defend their MTN8 title after being knocked out by Cape Town City in the semi-finals with a 3-1 aggregate scoreline. In the league they are also failing to produce positive results and find themselves second from bottom on the league table.
Wits have only won once in the seven league matches they’ve played so far.
However, the 26-year old midfielder reckons the club can finally turn the corner, just as long as they treat each league game as if it were a cup final when the domestic championship resumes after next weekend's MTN8 final.
“It has not been easy for any of us,” Mlambo said. “And that’s because we came into this season as both league and MTN8 defending champions. We’ll now have to treat every game as if it were a cup final and hopefully we’ll turn the corner soon soon.
“I believe the coach will field me when the time is right,” Mlambo added. “It’s very difficult (for him) now because we’ve got a whole lot of talented midfielders. We’ve got players such as (Thabang) Monare, Pienaar, Classen, (Ben) Motshwari and (Phumlani) Ntshangase who can play anywhere. So yes, the competition is tight and that’s why it’s very important for anyone who is fielded to make full use of the chance to represent the club well.”