AS THE Castle Lager Premier Soccer League heads into a break due to a cup competition, there is no doubt Chicken Inn and Harare City have been the major surprises at the halfway stage as they mount serious challenges for a historic league title.
Report by Wellington Toni
With 29 points from 15 matches, Mandla Mpofu’s side has drawn level at the top of the standings with Kelvin Kaindu’s Highlanders, but fall short of goals scored. They have hit 21 in comparison to Highlanders’ 26 but both have conceded 14 goals.
From the 21 they have netted so far, Tendai Ndoro has claimed 10 of those, two ahead of Harare City’s Osbourne Mukuradare. Both Highlanders and Chicken Inn have lost four times this season — with the former champions losing two games in a row for the first time in two seasons.
They have each won nine times and drawn twice while Highlanders have lost only once on the road this season, having suffered three defeats at Barbourfields.
On Saturday, Highlanders suffered their first defeat away from home, losing 2-1 to Caps United to remain on 29 points and none, save for Chicken Inn and Dynamos who dismantled How Mine 3-0, of the teams took advantage of that slip.
Kaindu has conceded that the first half has been tough.
“It has been quite tough compared to last season and the results that are coming out are not expected. Any other team can beat any team this year, but what is important is that we are in a good position,” Kaindu told our sister paper Southern Eye.
Chicken Inn head coach Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu is happy.
“We have done ourselves good in the first half and the boys have shown a lot of character, especially after we had gone on a bad patch. They have behaved professionally and showed a lot of confidence. There were times when things were not good enough. We will keep on working hard going into the second half,” Mpofu said.
Third-placed Dynamos have been undone by seven draws, which have seen them drop 14 points while their only defeat has come from Buffaloes — a 3-2 loss at Sakubva last Wednesday that all but exposed yet another bad day in the office for referees.
The defending champions have found the net 23 times and have 28 points — the same as Harare City who had the biggest opportunity to open a two-point lead at the top of the standings had they beaten Hwange. Unfortunately, they were cleaned 4-1 at the Colliery.
At this stage last year, Highlanders had amassed 33 points and were still unbeaten despite six draws which cost them 12 points. Dynamos were on 30 points, with a decision on the Hwange game outstanding, but had lost twice and drawn three times, again losing 12 points.
The two giants had drawn 1-1 in their reverse fixture while Kalisto Pasuwa’s men had managed to beat Chicken Inn 2-1, but lost 1-0 to Harare City.
On the other hand, Chicken Inn and Highlanders had played out a draw. This year, Chicken Inn have beaten Highlanders 1-0 and picked up a point against Dynamos.
After picking up 11 points last season from their opening five fixtures, Chicken Inn went on to lose three in a row — a situation which prevailed again this year leading to an ultimatum to both the coach and the players.
The response — in 2012 — was four points from their next two matches, but this year they have managed six which gives them 29 compared to 26 at the same stage last year.
For last year, Harare City were not in the equation. They were keen to preserve their Premiership status and they did that by winning just nine games and drawing 13.
They lost eight, scored 24 and conceded the same number of goals to close on 40 points.
But after acquiring 12 players in the new season, they have already scored 23 times, conceded 14 with eight wins and four draws. They had a chance to leap to the top, but were hammered 4-1 by Hwange on Sunday at the Colliery.
FC Platinum and Caps United, both on the field of play and on the technical bench, are also in the news.
Zambian Tennant Chilumba quit Platinum for Power Dynamos of Zambia two weeks ago leaving Tendai Chikuni in charge in an acting capacity.
Chikuni picked up a crucial four points from two matches after a 0-0 draw against Motor Action in Harare and a 1-0 win over Black Rhinos at Mandava. Chikuni will remain assistant to newly appointed Lloyd Mutasa, who is expected to take over once his clearance comes through from his employers, the Zimbabwe Prison Services. Mutasa watched the 1-0 win over Rhinos from the stands.
At Caps, the technical bench was beefed up by the appointment of Saul Chaminuka, who arrived after being given the boot from Buffaloes. And the results from two games have seen them beat Hwange 2-0 and Highlanders 2-1 to perch on sixth position.
Platinum have won seven matches, drawn five and lost three while Caps have won eight, but lost five, leaving both on 26 points. That is just two points behind Dynamos and Harare City and three behind joint leaders Highlanders and Chicken Inn.
Will the league champions reach 60 points this season? The competition suggests otherwise. The same stiff competition seems to exist at the bottom half with Tripple B and Triangle suddenly picking up form, relegating former champions Motor Action and Black Rhinos to the also-rans.
Out Saul Chaminuka in Timothy Masachi
Caps United Saul Chaminuka is new-assistant coach
FC Platinum out Tennant Chilumba-in Lloyd Mutasa
Tripple B-Friday Phiri out — Peter Manoti in
Chicken Inn in Mkhuphali Masuku as assistant coach