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The Monday Column: A proper relegation dog-fight

Posted: 19 February 2018 Time: 13:00

With less than 10 games to go this season, it seems the Absa Premiership is set for an almighty battle at the bottom of the table as a host of clubs look to avoid the drop.

We’re 21 matches into the 2017/18 season, and with Mamelodi Sundowns looking an almost sure bet to claim this season’s honours, one’s money is not so safe on predicting who of the bottom-placed sides will survive, or face the heartbreak of automatic relegation.

The bottom half of the table is as close as it’s ever been, with the bottom 10 teams all within 11 points of each other, with 27 league points still up for grabs until May.

Currently bottom of the pile, and having been in that position for 13 of the 20 match days this campaign, Platinum Stars face the toughest ask in digging themselves out their current predicament. Five points behind second-from-bottom, albeit with a game in hand, they are the league’s weakest defenders and lowest scorers, letting in 27 goals while netting just 13 in the 20 matches they’ve played.

The off-field takeover may have affected the players’ mentality somewhat, with stakeholder and head coach Roger de Sa vastly experienced in South African football, but guiding the club out of this predicament may be a stretch too far.

One spot above Dikwena sit Ajax Cape Town, a club filled with prestige and renowned for its academy, and obvious association with mother club Ajax Amsterdam. Yet their proud record of never being relegated from the Absa Premiership since their formation in 1999 is seriously under threat following an inconsistent season so far. Stanley Menzo was shown the door in December for not bringing in the desired results, yet go-to coach Muhsin Ertugral has managed just two wins from the seven league games he’s managed since taking over at the turn of the year.

On paper, the squad has seemingly too much quality to go down following a big January recruitment drive, roping in the likes of Tendai Ndoro, Yannick Zakri, Siyanda Zwane, Samuel Julies and Fagrie Lakay. Yet with controversy still surrounding Ndoro’s registration and docked points a distinct possibility, Ajax are headed for a nervy run-in to the end of the season.

Polokwane City are just a game in hand and a point ahead of Ajax, but have endured a tumultuous 2018 so far. Following the high of beating Sundowns for the second time this season in their opening game of the year, they haven’t won a game since, slipping precariously close to the drop zone. Last season’s sixth-place finish seems light years away, with the club in dire need of a lift with their game in hand to distance themselves from their fellow relation contenders. An upcoming Limpopo derby against Baroka FC, followed by a tussle against equally struggling Golden Arrows could be crucial in making or breaking their season.

From first on match day 6 to 13th after match day 21, it’s been a spectacular fall for Arrows as they struggle their way through the season. The juniors may have just won the MultiChoice Diski Challenge for a second time, yet the senior team is seemingly in free-fall, having won just one of their last 18 games in all competitions. They face Ajax in a must-win game for both sides this weekend, which is then followed by a clash against Polokwane City, as the relegation dog-fight intensifies.

Safety is far from certain, but neither is doom for all of these sides: a quick look at the table last season at the very same stage (21 games in) saw Baroka bottom of the log on 15 points, followed by Free State Stars on 19 points. Both those sides went on to survive, as Bakgaga made it through the play-offs and Ea Lla Koto earned nine points from their last nine games to end the season in 14th as Highlands Park, who sat in 14th spot with nine games to go, were the eventual wooden-spooners.

It’s going to be a tough battle, with not only status and bragging rights, but also financial security at stake as the relegation battlers go toe-to-toe over the next three months.

Who do you think is going down? Send us your thoughts on social media or in the comments below!

Article by: Fabio De Dominicis
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