MASERU — Every March 11, Lesotho celebrates the life of King Moshoeshoe I, the founder of the Basotho nation.
What a fitting tribute then that, three days after Moshoeshoe Day, his modern-day troops took a giant leap towards being crowned the kings of Lesotho football.
Two-hundred years ago King Moshoeshoe named his finest troops Matlama – and they were super-fit and skilled fighters who were the pride of the kingdom.
In the modern warfare of the Vodacom Premier League, it’s none other than Matlama on top.
By vanquishing title rivals Bantu 2-0, Tse Putsoa opened a seven-point lead at the top of the standings as their nearest rivals, Lioli, were stunned 3-1 at home to LMPS.
Looking at the oscillating nature of the league this season, Matlama will be the first to admit the battle is far from being won.
They know they will need 18 points from their remaining eight fixtures, unless their nearest rivals are to make Tse Putsoa’s life easier by dropping points.
Maseru’s glamour boys — looking to claim a record ninth title and their first since 2003 — certainly looked every bit a championship team when they dismissed Bantu with a confident display last Saturday at the Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena.
There is a self-belief about Matlama.
Their attacking prowess, led by Dlomo Monapathi, is now supplemented by a mean defence superbly marshalled by Nkau Lerotholi.
Matlama have scored more goals than any other team and share the league’s best defensive record.
Tse Putsoa’s campaign received a massive boost from an unlikely source in the form of defending champions Lioli.
The Teyateyaneng giants succumbed 3-1 to LMPS, a result that gave Matlama the seven-point lead.
There must be something in LMPS’s blue and yellow colours which terrifies Lioli because it’s now 10 matches since Tse Nala beat the police side, a sequence which started in 2007.
The defeat snapped Lioli’s impressive 17-match unbeaten home run.
It was also LMPS who had stopped Lioli’s 21-match undefeated streak with a 1-0 win when they met in a reverse fixture on October 10 last year.
Lioli must be glad they don’t have to face Simunye every week.
The weekend’s action also brought LMPS, also seven points behind Matlama, back in contention for the Premier League title.
But it was a different story for LDF and Bantu.
On Saturday LDF were thumped 4-1 at home by Lerotholi to leave them 10 points off the pace while Bantu’s challenge seems to be running out of steam with each passing game.
The battle is also furious at the other end of the table.
Life in the top-flight league is not so rosy for basement side Botha-Bothe Roses who can only pray for divine intervention if they are to survive the dreaded plunge to the unfashionable world of first-division football.
With a measly nine points, Roses are 18 points from safety with eight matches to go.
Their Leribe neighbours Nyenye Rovers are also in trouble after they lost 1-0 to Linare and Swallows claimed a crucial win over Mphatlalatsane by an identical score-line on Sunday.
Nyenye are now six points from the safety of the 12th place occupied by Swallows.
Mphatlalatsane, meanwhile, have slowly been dragged into the relegation picture.
At the beginning of the season their coach, Khethang Ntsoerent, claimed the St Monica’s side could challenge for the title.
Ntsoerent has since left the club and Mphatlalatsane are only six points above the relegation quicksand.
One man whose pre-season words could be ringing true is Matlama mentor Ndebele Taole.
“There is no reason at all why we shouldn’t be in the top four and in there as champions,” he said last August.
“People who underestimate Matlama will be surprised. I will change their play.
“I have many strings to my bow and I’m telling you this year I am going to set the pace.
“As long as there are 11 players on the field we will find a way to win.”
And, eight matches to go, Taole’s words appear to have been prophetic.
Meanwhile, Lerotholi will attempt to halt Matlama’s title charge when they host Tse Putsoa at the Central Prisons on Saturday.
Lihale, 10th on the Vodacom Premier League log with 28 points, go into the game on the back of a stunning 4-1 win over LDF at Ratjomose last Saturday.
That victory was inspired by mercurial winger Tšeliso Sejake who made Sohle-Sohle’s notoriously mean defence a dance all afternoon.
Lerotholi coach Naleli Tšilo was full of praise for Sejake in the build-up to Saturday’s game.
“He is maturing. It’s no longer that thing of just rubbing the ball, but there is something coming from it and it is to the benefit of the team,” Tšilo said on Monday.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Bantu will look to arrest a run of three successive losses when they host Likhopo in Mafeteng while Swallows can continue their climb away from the relegation zone if they beat in-form Linare in Mazenod.
Last weekend’s results
Saturday: Botha-Bothe Roses 0-2 Majantja, Joy 0-1 LCS, Matlama 2-0 Bantu, LDF 1-4 Lerotholi.
Sunday: Lioli 1-3 LMPS, Likhopo 3-0 Rovers, Linare 1-0 Nyenye Rovers, Mphatlalatsane 0-1 Swallows.
(All kick-offs at 3pm.)
Saturday: Swallows vs Linare (Mazenod), Bantu vs Likhopo (Mafeteng), Joy vs Nyenye, Rovers (Hlotse), Lerotholi vs Matlama (Central Prisons).
Sunday: LCS vs Botha-Bothe Roses (Central Prison), Rovers vs Lioli (Roma), Majantja vs LDF (Mohale’s Hoek), LMPS vs Mphatlalatsane (Old Europa).