Johannesburg – Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs' visits to KZN this weekend could rekindle fond memories and rub salt in old wounds.
That's why Mandla Ncikazi's return to Sugar Ray Xulu could be celebrated, while there might be few, to no hugs at Harry Gwala.
Ncikazi’s move from Golden Arrows to Orlando Pirates was well-received all-round. He had made an invaluable contribution to the club in one season. He ensured that they finished fourth in the league – their highest finish in the PSL era.
But not only that, he achieved that feat under challenging circumstances, given that he mostly worked with the club’s development graduates as they couldn't splash the cash to bolster the squad for the rest of the season.
The move to Pirates was set to challenge Ncikazi and gauge how far he’s developed as coach. He was appointed to work with assistant Fadlu Davids under coach Josef Zinnbauer. But the latter resigned after just one game.
Davids and Ncikazi were then promoted to caretaker coaches. The duo found the going tough, winning four matches out of 12 in all competitions.
Sure, they’ve been unlucky with injuries, but that they are ranked second on depth – behind champions Mamelodi Sundowns – in the top-flight.
The FIFA break has brought some breath of fresh air, though. Thembinkosi Lorch, Innocent Maela and Zakhele Lepasa have returned to training, while they’ll hope it will help them score more goals.
Pirates play attractive football – from transition to attack. That’s why they were the better side in the 2-1 loss to Kaizer Chiefs before the break. But Thulani Hlatshwayo and Olisa Ndah cost them at the back, while Kwame Peprah fired blank.
They cannot afford that against Abafana Bes’thende who'll still know Ncikazi’s tricks. Lehohonolo Seema hasn’t had the best of starts at the club after two wins, five draws and three losses. But his team will be eager to come out victorious at home.
Arrows can keep shape and are able to rotate the ball. But they lack the bite up front, with striker Knox Mutizwa yet to rediscover his form from last season, while Velemseni Ndwande is completely off the boil. They’ve had to rely on their defence at times.
Meanwhile, another team that is not yet to run like a well-oiled machine is Chiefs. And that has been disappointing, given the fact that the management had rolled out the cheque book to make up for lost time in the transfer window after their ban.
Chiefs have four wins, three draws and three losses. That's a balancing act, but in the bigger picture, they are nowhere near leaders Sundowns, who are unbeaten and boast eight wins so far. But they'll draw positives from the win in the derby.
Senior stars such as Khama Billiat and Keagan Dolly proved just how much they can punish oppositions given a chance. Dolly’s vast experience has become a reference to the youngsters at the club.
But with time, coach Stuart Baxter knows that they'll have to be a complete team. Their start to the term was hindered by injuries to key players. That's why the return of players such as Leonardo Castro at training might help them improve.
That will, however, be easier said than done. They'll have to work hard when they meet a Maritzburg United side that will be happy to sit-back and catch them on counter-attacks. A win, despite how bad it is, could be gold for their coach.
Ernst Middendorp was fired by Chiefs at the end of the 2019/2020 term after his team failed to wrap up the title on the last day of the term. He moved to Ethiopia after, but that didn’t last as he returned back to South Africa to join Maritzburg.