DESPITE suffering a nerve wreaking defeat to long-time rivals Dynamos in a Castle Lager Premier Soccer League match at Barbourfields Stadium on Sunday, Highlanders insist they are still firmly in the championship race.
Dynamos continued with their dominance over their Bosso with Ocean Mushure scoring at the death of the game from the penalty spot which means Highlanders have gone for seven years without beating their bitter rivals Dynamos in a league match.
Highlanders last beat Dynamos in 2006, the year they also won the championship. Since then, Dynamos have gone on to win the title three times in 2007, 2011 and last season.
After the weekend fixtures DeMbare appear to be back on track for their third consecutive championship as they are joint leaders with Harare City who however, have an inferior goal.
With four rounds of matches remaining before the curtain comes down on the season all the contenders know that they cannot pull any punches.
Highlanders’ assistant coach Bekithemba Ndlovu believes the championship race is wide open and believes “anything can happen” in the last four games.
Ndlovu, a multi-championship winner in his playing days, is leading his team’s preparations for their next away match to Motor action in the absence of Kelvin Kaindu who has left for England attending a Uefa B Licence coaching course.
“In as far as the championship competition is concerned there is no clear favourite,” he said.
“A lot can change with each passing week because all the title chasing teams along the way face opponents who are either not safe from relegation or those that are playing for pride like Motor Action.
“Look at us, last week we were on top of the log and now we are third trailing log leaders by a point and we are not losing sleep over that.
“We are going to take each game as it comes and avoid thinking about other teams’ results. We might not be in control of our championship drive but we certainly cannot be ruled out.”
Highlanders’ last four games are tricky and Ndlovu is aware that relegated Motor Action may want to go down to Division One Soccer League with their tails up after helping decide who wins the premiership.
Ndlovu said they have to pick themselves up from their defeat to Dynamos and focus on their last matches.
After their trip to Motor Action, Highlanders will then play in a Mbada Diamonds Cup semi-final against their Week 29 opponents Harare City at Mandava Stadium in Zvishavane before playing host to tricky Triangle at Emagumeni.Advertisement
The Bulawayo giants beat triangle 2-1 in the first leg and also knocked out the Gishon Ntini coached club from the Mbada Diamonds Cup.
For all their next two league matches, Highlanders will have to do without seasoned striker Njabulo Ncube who had just picked up form in the past weeks, scoring crucial goals and creating others for his teammates.
“The unavailability of Ncube will certainly be a blow but we believe that we have able replacements who can also do the job,” said Ndlovu.
“I cannot say we will not miss his services because his experience counts a lot but this is a chance for the other guys in our team to rise up to the occasion and score goal for the team.
“What we only need is to make sure that we work on our finishing because that is where our shortfall is because we create chances and even against Dynamos we were all over them, had two or three clear cut scoring opportunities but we missed.”
Some of the strikers that Highlanders will have to rely on for their league games are Gabriel Nyoni, Master Masitara who joined the club during the mid-season window, Beavan Chikaka, rookies Mgcini Sibanda and Bobby Nkomo.
Ncube will only be available for Highlanders’ last two matches of the season against Harare City on Week 29 and Shabanie Mine.
Elsewhere, Dynamos who picked just four points from their last four opponents in the first half – Triangle (0-0), Shabanie Mine, Chicken Inn and Black Mambas all identical 1-1 draws can overturn the first half results and cruise past the four clubs.
It is usually difficult to beat Dynamos at this stage of the season, especially if they are moving towards the championship. It is this piece of history that may be enough to scare their opponents.
However they will be without defensive pillar Patson Jaure in their next two league matches against Triangle at Gibbo and home to Shabanie Mine only returning for the Chicken Inn away match. The defending champions end the season against relegation threatened Black Mambas.
Just like Highlanders’ Ndlovu, Dynamos’ gaffer Callisto Pasuwa said they would be taking each match as it comes.
“Of course we want to defend our title but we do not want to fool ourselves by looking far beyond the next games when what is important is picking maximum points in the coming match. It is unity of purpose and desire to win that will carry us through,” said Pasuwa.
Second placed Harare City travel to Rimuka in Kadoma in their next league encounter to face Black Rhinos who have been hard to beat at home.
Bigboy Mawiwi’s side will have to be at their best to crack Black Rhinos who are sitting on the knife edge as a loss for latter will add on their relegation woes. Black Rhinos are on position 13.
After Black Rhinos, the Sunshine City will play two successive home games to relegated Motor Action and championship chasing Highlanders before wrapping up their campaign with an away match to Caps United.
Harare City have a number of experienced players capable of withstanding the championship heat in the form of goalkeeper Maxwell Nyamupangedengu, seasoned defender David Kutyauripo, defensive midfielder James Jam, national team’s Silas Songani, Osbourne Mukuradare and skipper Godfrey Nguwodzawo.
Championship dark horses are no doubt FC Platinum who are fourth on the log with 42 points. Lloyd ‘Samaita’ Mutasa’s men edged Shabanie Mine 1-0 in a Zvishavane derby and will want to continue with their new found form in their last four matches.
FC Platinum are waiting for just slight slip by the top three teams so that they can move up the ladder.
This weekend they will be in Bulawayo to take on Chicken Inn who are under new coach Joey Antipas, before playing host to Black Mambas who are swimming in the murky relegation waters and then travel to the Colliery for a date with Hwange.
The platinum miners will end the season with a home game against Buffaloes.
Saturday: How Mine v Hwange (Luveve), Black Mambas v Monomotapa (Morris Depot), Shabanie Mine v Tripple B (Maglas)
Sunday: Triangle United v Dynamos (Gibbo), Chicken Inn v FC Platinum (Luveve), Black Rhinos v Harare City (Rimuka), Motor Action v Highlanders (Rufaro), Buffaloes v Caps United (Sakubva)