JOHANNESBURG – Lindokuhle Mbatha remains indebted to Mamelodi Sundowns for giving him the opportunity to don the ‘Yellow Jersey’.
But the current Highlands Park talisman won’t be doing his former employers favours when the two teams lock horns in a Premiership clash at Makhulong Stadium tonight (7.30pm kickoff).
Mbatha joined the Brazilians at the start of the 2014/2015 season from Platinum Stars, but his stint with club never lived up to his expectations, due to his inability to break into coach Pitso Mosimane’s team.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity they gave me,” Mbatha said. “To play for Sundowns, it’s not something that’s easily achievable by anyone. Even today, I am pleased about having played for them.
“But now the story is different, I have other employers that I report to. I have to go out there and work hard for my current team.”
Today Mbatha is one of the stand-outs at the Tembisa-based club, after gaining valuable experience while playing for teams such as Sundowns.
The 33-year-old footballer and his teammates have ensured that no side from the so-called “top three” who have gone to Tembisa have walked away with three points.
They held Kaizer Chiefs to a goalless draw, and that was followed by a 2-2 entertaining stalemate against Pirates in the opening fixture of the New Year.
Will Sundowns be the first team to bring them back to earth in front of what promises to be a sold-out contest? Mbatha doesn’t think so.
“We’ve been working hard the entire week at training as we were preparing for this game,” he said.
“When we go out there, we want to put in our best performance.
“They might be African champions, but the mere fact that it’s 11 versus 11 means we have to go out there and take the game to them, and show home dominance.”
While the Lions of the North might have had more than a week to prepare for this encounter, the Brazilians have been involved in one domestic and two continental fixtures.
However, the Newcastle-born footballer believes that Highlands must be at their best if they want to snatch another points from the Brazilians – having played them to a 0-0 draw in the first round.
“They are used to this, this is not the first time that they are simultaneously playing in the PSL and Africa,” Mbatha said.
“I am sure that they’ll come prepared, and if we tell ourselves that they are probably tired, that will be naïve of us. We have to go out there and give our best performance.”
It’s been an impressive 17-match run in the Lions of the North’s return to top-flight football, and they currently occupy ninth spot.
Furthermore, three points against neighbours Sundowns tonight will be enough to take them into the top eight.
The attributes of a wiser board of directors have played a vital part in achieving that feat so far, as they brought in players who were eager to work hard instead of the so-called experienced campaigners who were looking to keep their pockets filled regardless of the team performance.