JOHANNESBURG – Not quite the start the champions were expecting to their title defence.
There is no crisis, à la Chelsea in the English Premier League, but with a home record as good as theirs (the Clever Boys were only beaten twice here) last season on the road to being crowned champions, Bidvest Wits would have wanted to be a bit more convincing than losing 1-0 to Cape Town City on Friday night.
But goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters brought his A-game. The Cape Town City defenders, though shaky for much of this opening Absa Premiership clash, held on firmly to deny James Keene and Co.
And the winning goal was unexpected.
While Wits were pilling on the pressure, the visitors got a set-piece outside the box, and striker Lehlohonolo Majoro connected with captain Lebogang Manyama’s free-kick delivery to send his header past keeper Moeneeb Josephs.
Football is cruel and could even be more punishing when Wits travel to Bethlehem on Wednesday to face bogey side Free State Stars, a side they are still looking to beat in coach Gavin Hunt’s tenure.
Hunt watched this defeat against City in the stands due to his suspension after he was sent off in the club’s ill-tempered MTN8 victory, on penalties, against Golden Arrows at the same venue last week.
He’d said his men wouldn’t need him because “you don’t coach from the bench” and “they (the players) don’t listen anyway”.
But something was missing. Sure, credit to evergreen goalkeeper Walters, who also saved substitute Gabadinho Mhango’s penalty in the 53rd minute, but they should have punished City’s suspect defence much earlier on in the game.
Instead, Benni McCarthy’s side had one chance and buried it – making it two in two for the former prolific Bafana Bafana striker, who is in his first head-coaching post since hanging up his boots and aiming for a seat in the dug-out.
If City play this way – relying on the counter while absorbing the pressure from the opposition – then they are unlikely to come within touching distance of the Premiership contenders.
But they can build from this big scalp, much like they did last season when they came here in December and ended Wits’ unbeaten run in the league.
Hunt had named an almost unchanged side to the one that beat Arrows, with defender Slavko Damjanovic missing due to suspension after he was also red-carded on his South Africa football debut.
His absence wasn’t missed as Wits pretty much kept City at bay, except when Majoro found the net.
But the league race is a marathon, and very few know how to run it like Hunt, now a four-times Premier League winner and hoping to make it a fifth title.
McCarthy has also aimed high this season, and this win against a man who gave him his debut at Seven Stars when he was just 17 years old will no doubt spur him on.