The new Mother City PSL club hosts Free State Stars in a Telkom Knockout semi-final tie at the Athlone Stadium on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 3pm) - and it’s an encounter likely to be a major test of their strength in depth.
City defeated Maritzburg United 3-2 at Athlone on Tuesday to, temporarily, sweep to the top of the PSL standings, but the victory came at a cost, as both central defenders picked up suspensions. Tshepo Gumede has accumulated four bookings for an automatic one-match ban, while Robyn Johannes was red-carded in the dying moments.
Johannes and Gumede had forged a solid defensive partnership and will be a big loss for City. The challenge now is whether their replacements can hit the ground running against Stars, to ensure the team remains compact and in shape, in order to catapult the Capetonians into the final.
The other two central defenders in the squad are Ghanaian Joseph Adjei and Latvian Renars Rode, while City coach Eric Tinkler has also previously used left-back Thato Mokeke in the centre of defence. The coach certainly has some thinking to do, though he’s confident in what he has available.
“When I arrived at City, and we only had 14 players, I said that I want to build a squad of players who could all contribute,” said Tinkler. “The players in this squad aren’t there to make up the numbers, they are here to play.”
City have now won six games in succession in all competitions - and they are keen to continue that momentum against the Free Staters on Saturday.
“I’ve always believed that you have to make winning a habit, you have to become addicted to winning,” said Tinkler. “And that is why I also always tell the players that they cannot be complacent because a loss is just around the corner, that’s the harsh reality of the sport. The distance between complacency and consistency is marginal, which is why they have to always keep working hard.”
As for the Maritzburg victory on Tuesday, it was again a triumph founded on the fantastic character the City players have displayed all season. Despite going 1-0 down early on, they rattled back and, even though the KZN club levelled again at 2-2, it always looked like the Capetonians would get the winner.
“We knew it would be a tough against Maritzburg,” said Tinkler.
“I thought the problem in the first half was that we were backing off too much and they were playing off our mistakes. But the philosophy we have instilled in this team is to always play with no fear.
“Even when going down, the reaction is always a positive one, you won’t find heads dropping.
“We knew that if we could get behind them on the flanks, we could hurt them, and that’s how it turned out to be.
‘While the goals are coming, I have to also admire the tactical discipline of the players. It’s important to be just as aware defensively - this sport is about offence and defence, and it’s important for the players to remember to do both.”
Despite all the success City have had so far in their debut season in the PSL, Tinkler is not getting carried away. There’s still a long way to go, he insists!
“There are 20 games left in the league campaign, and Cup games to play, he said. “Did I expect us to be where we are? Realistically, no - Did I dream about it, about getting the squad to push and work hard towards it? Yes!”
“So, 20 points after 10 games, I’m very happy with what we’ve achieved. I’m proud of my squad and the technical staff, and it’s a testament to the hard work that everybody has put in since the beginning of the season.”
But there won’t be much time for Tinkler and his men to dwell on any celebration - the next challenge is already upon them. And it’s a clash where there’s definitely something to play for - a place in a cup final.
Telkom Knockout semi-finals
Saturday: Cape Town City v Free State Stars, Athlone Stadium, 3pm; SuperSport v Pirates, Mbombela Stadium, 6pm
Original source: City’s depth will be tested against Stars