JOHANNESBURG - Bidvest Wits' poor start in their Absa Premiership title defence didn’t only test coach Gavin Hunt’s tactical acumen but it also tested his faith which saw him flirt with the idea of believing in “other things”.
The Clever Boys registered their first win of the season in regulation time on Saturday after eight failed attempts.
The 1-0 victory over Orlando Pirates gave Hunt some reprieve in a difficult spell that saw his future at the club in doubt for the first time since joining them four years ago.
An emotional Hunt opened up on how he endured a period that he hopes is behind them after their morale-boosting win.
“It’s been hard,” Hunt said. “I have never taken a beating like this in my life. I have always been on the other end of the scale. It’s not easy for me. I have seen things that I have never seen before. Maybe I started to believe in other things?
"It’s been crazy. I know I get criticised every week about my team selection. But you must come down to training to see what I am dealing with in terms of injuries. Tyson (Thulani Hlatshwayo) pulled out on the morning we were playing Pirates.
"I had the whole team planned. I had to drop Daine (Klate) and (Gabadinho) Mhango because I lost Tyson and had to change the way we play.”
Hunt continued, “The players are looking at me and shaking their heads. The mood hasn’t been any different (after the win over Pirates).
"There’s been a lot of determination and frustration. But I don’t think that the mood is anything different just because of this win.
"There are a lot of people who are upset about what’s happening. Those are the people who care. As long as you have people who care, you have half a chance.”
Wits kept their first clean sheet of the season in the win over Pirates. The club’s defence, which was their strongest department last season, has turned into a porous unit that shipped 15 goals in eight matches in all competitions.
“We are chopping and changing the team every game,” Hunt said.
“We can’t get any consistency. Our back five that helped us win the league and the MTN8 was consistent for the past year, but is not here.
"We have one player available from that back five. One! The leftback (Sifiso Hlanti).
"Our back five was key to our stability - (Darren) Keet, (Nazeer) Allie, Buhle (Mkhwanazi) and Tyson were good for us.”
Hunt replaced that quartet with Moeneeb Josephs, Reeve Frosler, Bongani Khumalo and Slavko Damjanovic.
Josephs and Frosler stepped up to the challenge and held their own while Khumalo and Damjanovic struggled to offer Wits the strong central pairing they had in the last campaign.
To combat that, Hunt has been fielding Phumlani Ntshangase to play just in front of the central defence - offering the club more protection and giving the midfield more freedom. Ntshangase did that job so well against the Buccaneers that he earned a Man of the Match award.
The Clever Boys will look to make it two wins in a row when they visit Bloemfontein Celtic at Dr Molemela Stadium on Sunday.
“It’s been crazy,” Hunt described his team’s start. “It’s been absolutely crazy. I have never seen something like this in 35 years of football. But we have what it takes to turn it around.”