Stellenbosch FC have targeted Maritzburg United for their first win in the Premier Soccer League.
The sides, who are winless heading into round three, square off at Athlone Stadium today (3pm kick-off).
League rookies Stellies came close to upsetting Cape Town City at Newlands Stadium two weeks ago. While they lost, a strong second half performance from Steve Barker’s boys, especially in the final 20 minutes, had City on the ropes.
“There was only one team out there past the 45-minute mark, that being us,” Barker said at the time.
“The boys, many without top-flight experience, showed up one of the contenders for league honours and deserved a share of the spoils if not all three points.”
He could not fault his players’ attitude, courage and bravery exhibited trying to peg back a one-goal deficit. But he wants those qualities on show for all 90 minutes, believing it will lead to positive returns.
Barker knows the importance of this fixture in the overall scheme of things and said: “Firstly, it’s our first home game, so we must capitalise on that.
“Then, in terms of the season as a whole, there are going to be around half the teams in the 16-strong field who will want to stay clear of the drop zone, and some see us as being one of them, which I don’t buy,” he said.
“United just managed to hold onto their top-flight status and so are a rival we have targeted for maximum points. We want that result badly, you will see that from my players who are well prepared and itching for action. A win would be massive for all involved with the club.”
United have former Cape Town City coach Eric Tinkler calling the shots. He was brought in late last season to save the club from relegation.
Barker has a lot of respect for his opposite number.
“Eric’s done a fantastic job at Maritzburg. He went there and they were really sort of dead and buried. He fought hard, changed the mentality and did well to avoid automatic relegation.
“But he still had to get them through the promotion-relegation play-offs, which he did, and so it is another season in the elite league for the Team of Choice.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him on the weekend and will wish him well for last season. Then we have to do what we have to do.”
It remains to be seen whether Barker will field new signing Ryan Moon against his former club. The 22-year-old striker was born and raised in Pietermaritzburg and began his professional career with Maritzburg United. He then joined Kaizer Chiefs for three years before being released last season.
Capped six times for Bafana Bafana, Moon recently trialled with Scottish club Hibernian and Hungary's Ujpest.