LOG leaders FC Platinum face one of the biggest hurdles in the run-in in their bid to win a maiden championship when they visit a stubborn Harare City in a Castle Lager Premiership football showdown on Friday, a match that has huge significance on the two teams’ season – albeit on opposite ends of the log table.
BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
Norman Mapeza’s men assumed top position of the standings last week after defeating Shabanie Mine in a thrilling Zvishavane derby and must now be sensing blood in their nostrils.
With 59 points, one clear of Dynamos, FC Platinum will win the ultimate prize of domestic football if they win their remaining five matches.
But that is easier said than done. A quick glance on their run-in shows they have five difficult fixtures awaiting them, including against fellow title contenders Ngezi Platinum and know they will have to be at their best if they are to claim the title.
But before they can wander to the matchday 33 fixture when they host Tonderai Ndiraya’s men in Zvishavane, they have the Friday match against the Sunshine City Boys at Rufaro Stadium to worry about, an assignment that poses perhaps the biggest threat in their title quest.
For Harare City have undergone a major footballing metamorphosis since the arrival of Philani “Beefy” Ncube, building a team that has given away very little at their home ground.
In the nine home matches that Ncube has taken charge of, he has lost twice, a 1-0 to Dynamos in his first match for the Harare City Council-owned side.
He also lost to Chicken Inn by the same scoreline the following week. Since then, the Sunshine City Boys have been resilient at home, managing six wins and a draw, including a stunning 3-2 victory over champions Caps United.
They have also won 5-0 against Bantu Rovers, 1-0 against Chapungu, 2-1 against Tsholotsho and 2-0 against Shabanie Mine with the only draw coming against Hwange.
It is their away form that should be worrying Ncube. His team has managed just one win on the road in the league under his stewardship, a 1-2 victory over Black Rhinos, who were unbeaten at that moment.
It was also Ncube’s first away game, across town at Morris Depot. After that, he has only managed a draw against Highlanders and lost the other seven.
That bad run of away form has seen the club plummeting down to 13th position on the league table with 34 points and fighting for their survival as they are just one point above the team occupying the relegation cut-off point – making their next match a must-win.
City’s weekend victory over Bulawayo City to qualify for the Chibuku Super Cup final, the richest knockout tournament in the country, will also mean that they go into the match in the right frame of mind.
More worrying for Mapeza is his team’s away performance where they have been erratic.
In their 14 matches away from Mandava Stadium this season, they have won six, drawn six and lost two to Ngezi Platinum and Caps United by an identical 2-1 scoreline.
They lost this fixture 2-1 last season, a game that enormously dented their chances of winning the title and how they will fare this time around will have a huge bearing on the destiny of the championship.
Mapeza, who has been asked to deliver the championship by his employers this season, having endured the frustration of being beaten to the finishing line in close races in the previous seasons, has often refused to say much about his chances, preferring to let the football do the talking.
Premier Soccer League fixtures
Thursday: Caps United v Highlanders (National Sports Stadium, rearranged fixture)
Friday: Harare City v FC Platinum (Rufaro)
Saturday: Bulawayo City v Chapungu (Barbourfields), Yadah v How Mine (Rufaro), Ngezi Platinum v Dynamos (Baobab)
Sunday: Tsholotsho v Bantu Rovers (Dulivhadzimo), Shabanie Mine v Triangle United (Maglas), Highlanders v Black Rhinos
(Barbourfields), Caps United v Hwange (National Sports Stadium), ZPC Kariba v Chicken Inn (Nyamhunga)