JOHANNESBURG – Wits coach Gavin Hunt believes that playing without pressure this season has got the best out of the team so far.
This time last season – after 11 matches – they were among the bottom three as they were succumbing to the pressure of defending their Absa Premiership title.
And eventually they cracked as they finished 13th on the league standings.
However, they are currently atop the standings with 20 points after 10 matches. “I don’t think we’ve played better than last season. It’s just that last season this time we were bottom and now we are top,” Hunt said.
“Football is a funny game; it can turn in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, few players left and few came in. So, we had a little bit of discomfort, but we also had a little bit of pre-season preparations that we didn’t have last season.
“We haven’t done anything, but we have a good understanding of how we want to play.”
For a team that are considered championship material this season, the Clever Boys have proven they belong at the top as they’ve been rampant upfront, while intact at the back.
So far, they’ve scored 14 goals, while conceding just four.
Considering how their newbies have quickly adapted to Hunt’s philosophy, it’s an appealing transformation as some of their predecessors, such as Steven Pienaar and Amr Gamal, left without finishing a season.
“There’s a new vibe and spirit (at the club), and that’s important,” he said. “We don’t buy players, so when we sign players who are out of contract, you look for what you can get and need.
“What type of player is he? Can he play in different systems? That’s what it’s all about.”
One of the Cape-born coach’s precious finds this season is Keegan Ritchie.
Having been mainly known as a left back in top-flight football – which included spells in the Czech Republic with SK Slavia Prague, and locally with Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United – Hunt has converted him to a midfield free-role position.
Currently, he’s got one goal and an assist in two matches.
“He can’t play left back to save his life,” Hunt argued. “When I got told I don’t know what I was doing and asked, ‘Are all the other coaches wrong?’ (I answered), maybe I am right.
“Maybe that’s why he’s been to more clubs and never played regularly.
“Personally, he was our best player against Highlands Park, and I think he should have won the Man of the Match.”
This weekend, Hunt and his troops will be eager to continue with their Telkom Knockout title defence aspirations as they face Maritzburg United in the quarter-finals at Harry Gwala Stadium on Saturday evening.
“Last season, we had three home games to get to the final, and now it looks like we’ll have three away,” Hunt said.
“It’s tough, we had to go to Free State Stars, and now we have Maritzburg, so it is what it is.”