CAPE TOWN – There’s no time for Ajax Cape Town to dwell on the pain and disappointment of finishing second-last in the PSL standings and now having to negotiate the play-off campaign against First Division clubs Black Leopards and Jomo Cosmos.
The first play-off match - away to Black Leopards - is scheduled for Wednesday, and that should be all that matters.
Ajax are in the predicament after losing 2-1 to Kaizer Chiefs at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon. There is, of course, nobody to blame, except themselves. They’ve regularly under-performed over the last few seasons and this is the culmination of that struggle.
On Saturday, against Chiefs, they had their destiny in their own hands, in that a win would have secured PSL safety - but, despite some good opportunities to win the match, it wasn’t to be.
A play-off mini-league such as this is always tough - and, making it even tougher for Ajax is the fact that they have been diabolical on the road. In the season that just ended, they only managed four points away from home.
In both Cosmos and Leopards, the Capetonians will be up against opponents who are traditionally quite strong at home. Because of this, Ajax coach Muhsin Ertugral admits he will have to focus on selection on the team’s travels.
“Mental toughness is going to be important,” said Ertugral. “I have to make sure that I choose the right players for the away games. I have to choose players who are mentally strong.”
“It’s the play-offs and we have to be professional about it. I always say that if you are not motivated by the situation the team is in, then you are in the wrong place. We just have to focus on the small elements; we work hard on things, we analyse it, but we cannot capitalise.”
“The motivation is that we have to go out and win the play-offs. The most important thing is not to lose away from home, and then we have two home games.”
In reflecting on the defeat to Chiefs, Ertugral again cut a frustrated figure afterwards. He bemoaned his team’s inability to make the most of their opportunities.
“It’s not about luck,” he said. “We need to make our own luck. If you look at the chances we had, you can see that we just need to be more precise. As a coach, what more can you do?”
“The precision at the right moments was lacking. We worked on those elements at training, but it has been the story of our season - the right moment, the right decision, it just wasn’t there. I just think that, under pressure, we are making the wrong decisions.”
“And (on Saturday) we knew that Chiefs will bring the game. They were able to come into the half-spaces during the first half, and they were able to turn and face our defensive line. So we changed things in the second half and that worked better. We were on the front foot, but it also meant that Chiefs were able to play us on the counter.”
In the second half, Ajax poured forward with abandon. With the score at 1-1, they had numerous chances to win the match, even using defenders Mosa Lebusa and Mario Booysen as forwards, but to no avail.