Tuesday, 1 May 2012

How Moroka Swallows could be flying high by the end of the week

FOR avid Bird-watchers and lovers of underdogs, here’s the three-scene drama which could await us over the cornflakes on Saturday morning.
Scene 1: Champions Orlando Pirates share a hard-fought, card-strewn draw at SuperSport United tonight (live on SS4 at 5.30pm) before Scene 2: A resurgent Kaizer Chiefs upset leaders Mamelodi Sundowns tomorrow night (delayed live on SABC at 10pm).
Then, flying beneath the footballing radar in Scene 3: Moroko Swallows win their game in hand at the Leopards on Friday (live on SS4 at 7.30pm). If the Dube Birds win by more than two goals, they go top of the PSL on 50 points (ahead of Pirates on goal difference and one clear of Sundowns and SuperSport) with two games to play.
Should all this come to pass, we will go in to squeaky-bottom time with SIX title contenders – including outsiders Free State Stars... and the flocking Swallows leading the way.
This particular fairy-tale is not that far-fetched. Augusto Palacios, the Peruvian journeyman thrust in charge at the Buccaneers when they got rid of Julio Leal, may be quite happy to grab a single point from the tight-fisted Gavin Hunt tonight. After Pirates’ 1-1 draw against Ajax Cape Town last Friday night, Palacios appeared remarkably sanguine. He said: “One by one we'll get there; we are not thinking about the other results. The media always say that we draw, but we are also not losing, and that's the most important thing.”
The Ghost, haunted by the prospect of seeing their title defence slip in to the twilight zone, may not agree with that. Based on budget, fan base and available talents, Pirates should be plundering the likes of Ajax and SuperSport at this stage of the season, but with Benni McCarthy looking a little weary at 34 and Tokelo Rantie suffering a sudden loss of form, perhaps Palacios knows more than we do.
That Swallows should beat the Leopards is highly likely – Siyabonga Nomvete’s hat-trick against Golden Arrows on Sunday took the veteran striker’s tally to a nationwide high of 16 this season and he looks a lot more sprightly than McCarthy at the same age.
As for Chiefs beating Sundowns… stranger things have happened. The Amakhosi have never lost four games on the trot before. Ace Khuse and Doc Khumalo deserve a turnaround in fortunes. And to be fair, they were unlucky not to grab a point in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat against SuperSport which led to ugly post-match scenes around the tunnel.
Of course, Sundowns have to be favourites for the title. Johan Neeskens is no mug, he’s in pole position heading for the final weeks of the season. Pirates must be second favourites, with Rantie promising before tonight’s showdown: “The coach has been pushing us hard at training to work on our mistakes. I’m very confident that we will collect maximum points.”
All I’m saying, as I have been for the past month, is keep following the Birds. Gordon Igesund has won the title with four different clubs and has already expressed a huge enthusiasm for making it a record five.
On eTV Sunrise on Monday (watch out for me again tomorrow morning at 7.30am), I lauded Igesund for taking the Swallows from relegation fodder to title contenders in a single season, saying he had forged a collection of “rejects, alcoholics and veterans” in to a cohesive unit with some aplomb.
Swallows were immediately on the telephone complaining about that description, but here’s an immediate response from one of my thousands of helpers on Facebook and Twitter,  a senior financial consultant called Nhlakanipho Wiseguy Hlatshwayo: “By rejects you mean David Mathebula,  by alcoholics you mean Lerato Chabangu, by veterans you mean Syabonga Nomvete and MacBeth Sibaya. Kwaaaakwaaa!”
Thank you. Wise guy indeed. Perhaps Swallows should take a compliment when it comes their way. And the odd title tip.
After all, it’s not as if certain pedigrees haven’t been enhanced this week. Did I ever tell you about my coach as a teenager in Pretoria a few decades back? Roy Hodgson his name was. And look where he is now!

This column appeared as my regular "Neal and Pray" column in The New Age newspaper this morning. See www.thenewage.co.za.

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