Three-horse race for league title
Lioli coach Mosholu ‘Shoes’ Mokhothu has warned his charges to be at their best in their remaining seven league games if they are to defend their premiership title.
Tse Nala lost top spot on the 14-team premier league table to Matlama at the weekend, and cannot afford to drop any more points as the title race enters the final stretch.
Tse Nala were held to a goalless draw by Likila United on Friday last week and drew 0-0 against Bantu on Sunday. Mokhothu has lamented the lost points in the two matches which he said has now made life very difficult for Lioli in their quest to retain domestic football’s most prestigious club prize.
“We should have won the match against Likila United. There was no reason why we failed to collect all the three points after creating so many scoring chances,” Mokhothu said.
“I feel we dropped the ball in that match and will now have to dig deeper in every game to remain on course to defend our title.
“Our problem in that game, like I said, was failing to convert the many chances we created and this is something we should improve on.”
“Against Bantu, we have always struggled against them so the draw was not a bad result.”
However, Mokhothu believes since nine Lioli players are part of the national team to face the Seychelles in crucial Nations Cup qualifiers on 26 and 29 March away and at home respectively, retaining the league championship could be difficult.
“I am not worried about fatigue or injuries to our key players, but my problem is that the break could affect our momentum. Such breaks tend to affect your rhythm, and that is what I am worried about because the other teams without as many players in the national team would be playing their games,” said Mokhothu.
“We now have to take our chances as we still have a game in hand and it will be important that we win every match going forward.”
On his part, Matlama coach Moses Maliehe said they had a “special weekend” after winning their two matches and capitalising on Lioli’s struggles.
Tse Putsoa defeated Linare 3-2 and Likila United 3-1 to overtake Lioli at the summit of the Vodacom Premier League table.
“The weekend was very special for us in the sense that we needed to win the two games to remain in the race. And luckily for us, Lioli dropped points and we went top of the table,” Maliehe said.
“Our camp is now brimming with confidence and the players are determined to go all the way and win the league title.
“It was also encouraging to see our boys scoring so many goals. This is important because without finding the back of the net, you cannot win matches.”
Maliehe further said he was aware that being top of the table does not mean they have to relax.
“Being in the race for the league title is never easy. It means more pressure and hard work to the bitter end,” said Maliehe.
LCS coach Mpitsa Marai, whose side is third on the table—two behind Matlama and one behind second-placed Bantu who are on 43 and 42 respectively—says he would not put his charges under undue pressure.
“Our target was not the league title but finishing among the top four teams. But football being football, we are here now and want to keep the players grounded so that the excitement does not go to their heads,” Marai said.
“We are taking it one game at a time because now the players are aware that our top-four goal can become something bigger so it is important that we box smart and do not put ourselves under any pressure.
“Like I have said, winning the championship will be a bonus for us, but we are excited knowing that we have a chance to get something big.”
Marai, who is in his first season as head-coach, further said he was not surprised about his charges’ good run.
“I’m not really surprised with what we have achieved so far. I was assistant coach here at LCS under ‘Shoes’ Mokhothu and we won back-to-back league titles before I went to Bantu and also won the championship as an assistant coach. So I think I learned a lot in those times to succeed as a head-coach,” he said.
Meanwhile, there would be no premier league matches this weekend as the national team, Likuena, would be playing two friendly games against Swaziland on Saturday and Sunday in Mbabane. The matches are part of the team’s preperations for their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Seychelles. Likuena are bottom of Group J after losing all their two matches against second-placed Ethiopia and leaders Algeria. Losing against the Seychelles on 25 March and 29 March would end their dream of qualifying for the Nations Cup tournament set for Gabon.
Matlama’s remaining league matches: Mphatlalatsane, Bantu, Liphakoe, Lioli, LCS, Kick4Life.
Lioli’s outstanding fixtures: LCS, Likhopo, Liphakoe, Kick4Life, Matlama, Rovers, Linare.
LCS’ last matches: Lioli, Bantu, Likhopo, Rovers, Liphakoe, Matlama, Sundawana.