CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 19, during the Santos training session at Santos FC Academy, Lansdowne on April 19, 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa Photo by Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images

The big question on the lips of Cape Town’s local football followers is: “What is wrong with Santos?”

After yet another defeat on Sunday – 3-1 to Mamelodi Sundowns – Santos are in deep, deep trouble at the wrong end of the PSL log.

They have three games remaining and, if they don’t start to pick up points sooner rather than later, then they will have to prepare themselves for First Division football next season.

The last shot at saving their place in the top-flight of South African football starts on Wednesday night when they host Free State Stars at Athlone Stadium (kick off 7.30pm).

After this, they will have two games left – against AmaZulu (away) and Jomo Cosmos (home) – and then they also have to hope the other teams in the danger zone, Black Leopards and Cosmos, drop some points along the way.

Much of what is wrong with Santos was evident in the loss to Sundowns.

The Capetonians came with their usual game plan of keeping things tight at the back, getting numbers behind the ball, and then trying to hit the opposition on the break.

There’s nothing wrong with that strategy. Played correctly, with the proper control, it can be very effective.

But, and it’s a big but indeed, Santos are just not consistent and disciplined enough when implementing this approach.

Against Sundowns, they did everything wrong. Yes, they got back behind the ball, but they failed to then move in and close down their opponents. They allowed the Pretoria side space and they paid dearly for their generosity.

Also, when using this game plan, a team has to be ready to launch the counter when they win the ball back. Santos failed to do so. They lacked fight, they lacked ideas, they easily surrendered possession and there was no cohesion or any form of organisation about their efforts.

In short, they were sloppy at the back and cowardly in attack.

It’s not that this Santos side cannot play. They can...

They have already proven that, when in the mood and motivated, they can beat just about any side in the PSL – as they demonstrated when beating both Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs this season.

Now, with so much at stake, the real Santos has to show up against the in-form Free State side at Athlone tomorrow.

New Santos coach Mart Nooij has had a chat with his team and explained what he needs from them in the remaining weeks of the season.

“I have asked the players for a lot more passion, determination and aggression,” said Nooij.

“Against Sundowns, we started well, but after we gave them a present of a goal, we fell back into old habits and struggled for the rest of the match.

“The important thing now is not to focus too much on the opposition, we have to rather examine our own team.”

However, the Dutch coach’s wise words are more easily said than done.

Before Nooij’s arrival, Santos also had coaches Boebie Solomons and Duncan Crowie asking for those same qualities of passion, determination and aggression.

Yet Santos are still in a precarious position – which would suggest that it’s high time for the players to listen and start to earn their salaries. – Cape Argus