Ajax Cape Town remain in the danger zone after losing 2-1 to Maritzburg United in their Premier Soccer League (PSL) match at the Cape Town Stadium on Friday night.
There were signs of improvement under new coach Muhsin Ertugral but there is still plenty of work required if the Urban Warriors are to avoid relegation.
After Friday night’s games, Ajax sat second-bottom on the 16-team log ahead of defending champions Wits, who lost at home 1-0 to Free State Stars.
At the end of the season the side placed last will be relegated to the National First Division (NFD) and the second-bottom team will contest a mini-league with the second and third-placed teams from the NFD, for a spot in the PSL.
Ertugral, who joined the Parow-based club during the Christmas break, had five training sessions to prepare his squad to face United, and it showed because his boys, while trying hard to make a fist of it, ended up being outplayed by a visiting side that exposed them defensively.
The KwaZulu-Natal raiders moved up three places to sixth on the standings, making it five straight wins over Ajax who last won this fixture in 2015.
And it was an ex-Cape Town player in the form of Fadlu Davids (with his brother assisting him) coaching United to victory.
Ajax took the lead in the sixth minute against the run of play via a forceful header from right wing Tashreeq Morris (fourth goal of the season), an advantage they held till half-time.
United grabbed a deserving equaliser 40 seconds into the second half, with Deolin Mekoa sending a shot across the face of goal, one returning goalkeeper Brandon Petersen should have saved with time on his side.
The KwaZulu-Natal visitors, who had legitimate penalty claims during the opening half, were always in command and it was no surprise when they went 2-1 up in the 69th minute thanks to Siyanda Xulu’s first goal in two years. He was given time and space to head home.
Ajax had chances to share the spoils. Now it’s back to the drawing board for all concerned.
Ertugral’s fourth stint as head coach at Ajax could well be his most challenging assignment and there are a number of conundrums for him to mull over without time on his side, the chief one being finding the right combinations.
His says his quartet of new signings will add strength to the squad and one can only hope the trio without work permits get them soon.
Ajax have five more league games to play this month, all of them at the Cape Town Stadium.
They entertain log-leaders Mamelodi Sundowns on Tuesday (7.30pm kickoff).
“Playing one of the glamour clubs of South African football is enough motivation for the players to show they can mix it with the best out there,” said Ertugral.
“Sundowns are my pick for the title. But any side can be beaten on any given day, and why not us downing the 2016 CAF Champions League champions?
“It comes down to the players having the belief and my players have it in them.”
The coach and his back-up staff must do all they can to lift the spirit in the camp after the latest setback which sees Ajax having recorded just three wins from 15 games.
If confidence levels are low, and they will be, it’s a heavy weight to shoulder and will affect the players’ performance.
They must know that a couple of wins on the bounce will ease their plight significantly.
This is a club with a proud history and maybe bringing in players from the past to remind the current crop of what it means to play for Ajax could be the fix needed to turn the tide.