Premiership safety remains Stellies’ target
CAPE TOWN – Premiership rookies Stellenbosch FC are in a good position to cement their place in South Africa’s elite football league.
The pre-season target of 33 points to make this a reality has nearly been reached, the men from the Cape Winelands require another six points from a possible 18 from their last six fixtures to reach the mark.
Four of those games will be staged at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch, their “new” home ground.
The club’s long-term goal is to play the majority of home matches at the stadium next season but head coach Steve Barker said the venue they used last season (Idas Valley Sports Ground) while campaigning in, and winning, the National First Division will be used for some fixtures once it becomes compliant with PSL standards.
Their season so far
Stellies have claimed the scalps of big-name teams Orlando Pirates and SuperSport United and to date have won seven of 24 matches, placing them 11th in the standings on 27 points, but more importantly, putting seven points between themselves and bottom-placed Black Leopards with a game in hand.
It took them eight games to record their first win - a 2-0 victory at Polokwane City - but then with that monkey off their backs, Barker’s boys showed themselves to be no pushovers and went on to complete back-to-back victories after seeing off Pirates 1-0 at the Cape Town Stadium.
Stellies then went winless in five before completing a hat-trick of wins to move away from the danger zone.
But two losses in a row before the season was postponed due to the coronavirus means there’s still a little way to go to ensure their safety.
Barker, a former PSL player, is a class act.
He stayed calm when the pressure was firmly on his shoulders to produce that first win. Not once was his position under threat during the barren run.
Instead, he was backed to the hilt by his employers and the confidence is paying dividends.
The former AmaZulu FC and AmaTuks coach is a shrewd tactician as shown by his line-up for the recent clash with defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns, which saw his three strikers and top goal scorers Waseem Isaacs, Igraam Rayners and Ryan Moon benched in favour of an unheralded attack force so as to confuse his opposite number Pitso Mosimane, who said as much post-match after his charges held on for a hard-fought 1-0 away win.
What they’ve done right
Stellies have taken team unity and togetherness that was created last season and built into this one.
It wasn’t easy initially with the big turnaround of players but they’ve been able to maintain a strong culture at the club.
There’s a belief in the processes they do, always attempting to do things to the highest level of professionalism.
Being based at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport offers an environment where the players can rub shoulders with the best athletes in the world, such as the SA Sevens rugby team.
The goal is to maximise the facilities and the personnel in pursuit of excellent in everything they do.
What they’ve done wrong
There’s always room for improvement in all areas of Stellies’ play.
The season hasn’t been as consistent as they would have liked, while building a clear identity as a team in what they want to do and achieve remains a work in process.
Losing their first two home games at the start of the year when the aim was to cash in set the side back, but they bounced back strongly and could end up in the hunt for a top-eight finish.
Isaacs is the main man when it comes to hitting the back of the net. The stocky attacker has seven goals to his name and is aiming to hit double figures.
Fellow marksman Rayners, who will play for SuperSport United next season, has scored five goals and supplied seven assists. He started the season well and will want to end his stay with the club he helped win promotion to the top flight on a high.
Moon completes the strike department and has netted three times.
The trio have scored the bulk of the 21 goals so far and will be key men in the remaining fixtures should the league resume.
Home: v Golden Arrows, Cape Town City, Chippa United, AmaZulu FC
Away: v Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates
Last 5 games: LLWLW
Mike de Bruyn