Bantu fire early warning shots

MASERU — It’s been 16 long years since Bantu last won a trophy.

That’s just too long for the proud people of Mafeteng where A Matšo Matebele are not only their pride and joy but an extension of daily life.

The Holy Grail that is the league championship has been but a mirage in the club’s lengthy history.

But after years of pain which included relegation to the first division in 2004, 2010 has so far been a renaissance year for Bantu.

Last Saturday they shot to the top of the Vodacom Premier League standings for the first time in eons with a 2-0 win over Maduma in Mafeteng.

The win was their third on the bounce in the league and the unbeaten Bantu are showing signs they are ready to paint Lesotho black and gold.

It could be time to look south.

With 16 points from six games, Bantu lead second-placed LDF by a point with a game in hand.

But more significantly, Bantu are now eight points ahead of Lioli and nine clear of champions Matlama, while LCS seem unable to wake from their slumber since their 2008 title.

Bantu’s rise appears to point to the club’s sound administration, led by president Leuta Leuta, and aggressive investment in the team.

With the support of Mafeteng businesses, Bantu have gained muscle to match Lesotho’s big boys and they have rocketed from languishing in the A-Division 16 months ago to top-flight contenders.

Before the start of the season, A Matšo Matebele made seven signings including spending a club record M8 000 to capture Lesotho Under-20 starlet Mosiuoa Boseka. Bantu also out-priced Lioli for top scorer Teboho Nthako who impressed for Majantja last season.

This new material, added to playmaker Tefo Maipato and defensive rocks Tlali Maile and Mapheelle Ngoako, has created possibly the hottest mix in the country.

Whereas last season A Matšo Matebele faded after a similarly positive start to finish sixth, this season a title challenge can be sustained.

Tšehla Lerotholi, who took over at the start of the season, has turned Bantu into a team that suits its players’ strengths.

Maipato has excelled dictating and controlling play, while Boseka and Nthako have added potential championship panache.

Bantu have shown they can also win when chips are down, grabbing a desperate late winner two Sundays ago against Lerotholi after they had squandered a comfortable first-half lead.

It’s therefore unsurprising that Mafeteng’s black-and-gold army is growing by the day as excitement and a feeling of redemption intensify for the long-suffering Mafeteng fans.

It’s also no wonder then that Lerotholi, the coach, believes this season represents Bantu’s best chance to be crowned Lesotho’s football kings with the usual trophy suspects struggling.

“The path to winning is widening when you look at the teams that you would expect to be challenging,” Lerotholi says.

“It’s a good time and it’s a chance for Bantu to take advantage.

“That’s what I have been saying to the players — that we have to get our points now before those teams wake up.”

Meanwhile, Lioli are struggling to match their off-field developments with performances on the field.

Over the past year, Tse Nala have been at the forefront of football improvements in Lesotho including introducing player contracts.

However, on the field Lioli are paying the price for resting on their laurels.

On Sunday Tse Nala were beaten 1-0 at home by Linare.

The defeat left them eight points behind Bantu.

Lioli’s problems appear easy to dissect.

Seenyane Nthejane has ploughed a lonely furrow upfront.

He needs help in the form of a target-man, or better service.

The side’s full-back areas have been weak while in general Tse Nala lack the bite of last year’s championship-winning side.

The laid-back approach of former coach Mosholi Mokhothu was able to get the best out of Lioli players.

But Halemakale Mahlaha has struggled to replicate his success with his abrasive approach on match days.

Meanwhile, Bantu and Linare have a chance to pile pressure on their championship rivals after Saturday’s Vodacom Premier League matches involving Matlama, Lioli, LDF, Likhopo and LMPS were postponed.

Those teams have players involved with Makoanyane XI’s in the Cosafa Under-20 Youth Championship starting in Botswana tomorrow.

Second-placed LDF were scheduled to play Likhopo, while Lioli were due to travel to Hlotse to face Joy.

Matlama and LMPS were set to clash in Maseru.

Bantu can at the very least open a two-point gap at the top if they beat struggling Mabeoana in Matsieng.

Third-placed Linare, who are fresh from an eye-catching 1-0 win over Lioli last Sunday, also have a winnable fixture as they welcome Swallows to Hlotse.

A win would guarantee Tse Tala second place, though a slip-up by Bantu could see Linare claim top spot.

The postponement of Saturday’s matches means Matlama and Lioli’s next task will be their big derby match in Teyateyaneng next Sunday.

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