Pride will be at stake when Likhopo host Matlama at Pitso Ground, setting the tone for a potentially thrilling Maseru derby.
The fixture is arguably the pick of Saturday’s Vodacom Premier League ties as derbies do not come any bigger than this one.
However, The Red Army, as Likhopo are affectionately known, wade into Saturday’s battle without star-striker Thapelo Tale, who has left the country to further his studies in Belgium. On the other hand, Tse Putsoa would be in buoyant mood following the return of former captain, Nkau Lerotholi, from South Africa.
Lerotholi joined Pretoria-based First Division side Garankuwa United, but could not secure a work permit, prompting his return to Tse Putsoa.
After failing to play against Linare last weekend because of incomplete paperwork, Matlama finally registered the iconic defender with the league on Monday this week.
Meanwhile, in addition to Lerotholi’s availability for Saturday’s clash, new signing Mabuti Potloane makes a return to the team after missing last weekend’s clash against his former club.
The 2013/14 Vodacom Premier League player-of-the-season announced his arrival at Tse Putsoa with a goal in the hard-fought 2-1 win over LDF a fortnight ago.
According to veteran playmaker Pali Tšalong, Lerotholi’s return and Potloane’s arrival have made Matlama a force capable of pushing Lioli, who lead the 14-team Premier League table, and second-placed Bantu, all the way in the race for the league title.
Last Sunday, fifth-placed Matlama roared back from two goals down to force a 2-2 draw against seventh-placed Linare in Hlotse, which Tšalong said showed the team’s character and self-belief.
“Most of these rival teams are so motivated to stop us, and this was very evident against Linare last weekend,” Tšalong told the Lesotho Times.
“Unfortunately, the poor condition of the pitch worked against us last weekend. We conceded very early and had to work hard to find our way back into the match and that showed a lot of character and determination. And you must remember we didn’t have Mabuti and Nkau when this happened.”
On the other hand, eighth-placed Likhopo are brimming with confidence following last Sunday’s 3-2 win over basement-side Qoaling Highlanders.
Team manager Qamako Mahao told the Lesotho Times that while the Likhopo family would miss Tale, the match against Matlama would still be fiercely contested as it was more than a league game to the club.
“This is a derby and a completely different ball-game altogether,” Mahao said.
“All our players are fit and raring to go. We had a morale-boosting win last weekend, which means spirits are high in our camp ahead of this tie, which we believe we are going to win.”
The team, he added, would have its confidence high following the return to full fitness of star-midfielder Bokang ‘Lefty’ Mothoana.
In other league matches set for Saturday, Highlanders host 10th placed Kick4Life in Qoaling, while LMPS, who are second from bottom on the log, entertain sixth-placed Likila United at PTC Ground.
On Sunday, Lioli face fourth-placed LCS at Setsoto Stadium; Bantu battle Sundawana who occupy position nine on the log, in Butha-Buthe; third-placed LDF are at home versus Linare and 11th positioned Nyenye Rovers battle-it-out with 12th placed Mphatlalatsane.
Weekend fixtures at a glance
Saturday: Likhopo v Matlama (Pitso Ground); Qoaling Highlanders v Kick4Life (Qoaling);
LMPS v Likila United (PTC Ground).
Sunday: Lioli v LCS (Setsoto); Sundawana v Bantu (Butha-Buthe); LDF v Linare (Ratjomose Ground); Nyenye Rovers v Mphatlalatsane (St Monica’s).