JOHANNESBURG - ‘The Lions of the North’ will be back to roar in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) next season! Highlands Park gained promotion back to the elite league after just one season in the National First Division (NFD).
Highlands needed only a draw against the University of Pretoria but their scoring spree continued as they hammered AmaTuks 5-1. Highlands owe their success to coach Owen Da Gama who took over in September, the club having already played five games from which they had a mere six points.
The former national under-23 coach, who had also served as Bafana Bafana assistant coach, helped Highlands Park garner a massive 53 points from 21 matches.
“Sometimes in life you’ve got to take two steps back, in order to go three forward,’’ Da Gama said after his downgrade to the country's second tier league.
And boy did the 56-year-old move forward. In leading Highlands Park back to the Premiership, Da Gama did not lose a single league match with the Nedbank Cup defeat the only blemish on an otherwise impressive record that produced just five draws.
“To be able to achieve that, it takes total focus, being humble and keeping your feet on the ground. We just kept on working hard and planned. We’ve got a lot of dedication going around in this team.’’
After winning promotion into top-flight football, most teams often go into the market for the so-called experienced players in order to compete and maintain their elite league status.
However, the former Platinum Stars and Orlando Pirates coach says that they have to reward the players.
There are still four matches left to play in the NFD, and with maximum wins, Da Gama and his charges can set a new NFD record of 71-points. Not that Da Gama is chasing landmarks.
“It’s not about records, those things come automatically if you work hard,’’ he said. "But I always tell the boys, if you make a R1000, try to make R2000 and instead of that, target R3000; never say you’ve got enough.’’
Black Leopards and Jomo Cosmos are currently battling for a spot in the play-offs, as they look to secure promotion.
Da Gama sympathises: "I think it’s sad to play play-offs and still prepare for the PSL. By the time you’ve qualified, those players you wanted earlier have been signed elsewhere, and the amount of rest is not the same.’’