AS the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League race staggers towards the halfway stage, a fierce battle has emerged with three teams — Hwange, How Mine and defending champions Dynamos — sharing top spot, indicating another likely intriguing conclusion to the campaign.
Log leaders Hwange suffered a 1-0 reverse to Chicken Inn — their first home defeat in the campaign — but still enjoy top spot with 22 points from 12 matches.
How Mine, who drew 0-0 against FC Platinum, claimed second spot with the same number of points due to an inferior goal difference
But it was the defending champions Dynamos who leapt highest, climbing to third place, but also with 22 points after recovering from the loss to Hwange last week to edge bitter rivals Highlanders 1-0 at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday.
Washington Pakamisa, who has been struggling to impose himself since the start of the season, decided the contest with a priceless first half strike to break his goal duck.
The goal was special in that while it was his first of the season, it ended Highlanders’ unbeaten run this season.
“I am happy to have finally scored after a long time,” Pakamisa said afterwards. “It was a special goal in many ways. Being my first goal, it gives me the confidence going forward. It ended Highlanders’ unbeaten record and helped us preserve our unbeaten record against them. I hope to continue doing well.”
Dynamos attackers have been firing blanks since the start of the season with just three goals between them. Anesu Gondo has scored the highest (two goals) and Patrick Khumbula has one.
But coach Kalisto Pasuwa has kept faith in his misfiring strikers with hope that they can find their feet when they come up against a resurgent Chicken Inn in Bulawayo this weekend in a top-of-the-table clash.
Pasuwa’s big decision was to throw in ageless Murape Murape into the fray on Sunday. Murape might miss all the games, but he will always play against Highlanders and Caps United.
To the Dynamos fans, he represents the true blue and white and also knows how it feels to lose or beat either Bosso or the Green Machine.
Murape kept Kuda Mahachi in check and the Highlanders playmaker had to constantly change wings to try and engineer something, but Murape stuck to him like a leach.
Highlanders, on the other hand, lack such a player — one who can be defined as a “true” son. While Erick Mudzingwa has grown at Highlanders he, sadly, does not carry the same status as Murape.
The defeat saw Highlanders dropping to fourth place with 21 points and needing to get back to winning ways this Sunday when they host Black Rhinos at Barbourfields.
Highlanders will be under scrutiny from their millions of fans in the next seven weeks as they will play six out of seven games at home.
After facing Rhinos, they play How Mine [away], host Bantu Rovers home and away in Week 15 and 16, before travelling to Harare for a return leg against Rhinos. They will return home to face Triangle and Dynamos in successive weeks before they travel to FC Platinum.
Coach Kevin Kaindu, although admitting defeat, said they had lacked character and mental strength, but insisted they gained control in the later stages of the match.
“It’s painful. It’s not what we expected. We wanted to keep on marching, but we lacked character and conceded that goal. But we played well in the second half after those introductions. I substituted Mahachi because as you could see when marking, they were too hard on him,” Kaindu said.
Kaindu threw in Valentine Ndaba as a replacement for Mahachi with Knox Mtizwa also coming in for Joel Ngodzo who has not been playing regularly for Bosso while Ozias Zibande came in for Gabriel Nyoni.
Those substitutions brought urgency in their attack which saw them gaining control of the match.
In fact, Zibande should have started the match with Ndaba coming ahead of Ngodzo while goalkeeper Njabulo Nyoni should have stayed on the bench.
Arial Sibanda has been superb in goal since taking over from Munyaradzi Diya and there was no need to change that winning team.
One thing that was glaring at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday was the absence of fans from such a big match, or, maybe, just maybe, it has ceased to be a big match after all. An estimated 15 000 fans watched the match.
Dynamos secretary-general Webster Chikengezha said they no longer discussed figures with the Press as per their new policy.
However, he said despite the economic situation in
the country, they were happy with the turnout of fans on Sunday.
But if truth be told, fans are not watching football in Zimbabwe and clubs have to find new revenue streams to survive. Perhaps clubs have to take the issue of club licencing more seriously.
Premiership new boys ZPC Kariba, the only team still to taste defeat in the league after drawing 1-1 with Shabanie Mine, are in fifth position with 20 points while Caps United, who edged Chiredzi FC, trail in sixth position with the same number of points.
Chicken Inn, who ran out 1-0 winners against Hwange, are a point behind United.