NFD: Who’s the favourite for promotion?
Posted: 5 January 2019 Time: 08:00
The second round of the National First Division gets underway this weekend, with a number of sides in the hunt for a prized spot in next season’s Absa Premiership.
Cape-based Stellenbosch FC are the current front-runners at the halfway point of the season, as KickOff.com selects three teams who look hot favourites to fight it out for top spot with 15 games to go.
Early pace-setters Stellenbosch lost two of their opening three games of the new season, but have yet to taste defeat since, enjoying a stellar campaign which has seen them top the table for the majority of the season so far following their initial speed wobble.
With Steve barker still at the helm, the Cape club have put out a number of impressive displays, and are the best team of paper with the highest number of goals scored (22) and the least conceded (9) of all teams after 15 games played.
Iqraam Rayners, who joined from Santos two years ago, currently leads the NFD scoring charts with nine strikes, and is well on his way to beating his 11-goal tally of last term.
Under their previous name Vasco da Gama, the club last featured in the PSL eight years ago, yet with a four point lead at the summit of the standings, the Cape club will look to continue in the same vein through 2019 to achieve their ultimate prize: promotion.
In the face of adversity, Royal Eagles have not just shone, but shone brightly. Winless in their opening four games of the season, beating last season’s ninth-placed finish seemed a far-fetched dream for the KwaZulu-Natal club, who then placed Roger Sikhakhane on sick leave, before having to lay to rest their coach, who sadly passed away in November. Kagisho Dikgacoi’s short stint in charge did not last long, as the club put their faith in development coach Sazi Ngubane.
Under their new mentor, Eagles looked a different side, having lost just one of the eight games under his watch while winning all five of their last five encounters of 2018 – a run unparalleled in the division.
Muzi Thabotha, previously of Ajax Cape Town and Highlands Park, is the side’s top scorer with four goals, closely followed by Philani Cele, whose had PSL experience with AmaZulu, on three. The chasing pack is not far behind, but with Eagles looking forward rather than behind them, the point-point gap between them and leaders Stellenbosch could soon diminish if they continue their impressive run as they target a maiden berth in South Africa’s top-flight.
Ajax Cape Town
It was a 2018 to forget for Ajax, with courtroom battles, relegation and subsequent inconsistent results in their first foray in South Africa’s second-tier leaving them destitute.
Four wins from their first 11 games was nowhere near good enough as Muhsin Ertugral left the Ikamva gates for a fourth time, with the Urban Warriors mid-table and out of sorts following a poor run of form.
Clearly needing new motivation and new direction, mother club Ajax Amsterdam intervened with the appointment of Andries Ulderink as the new head coach, with the Dutchman’s vast experience in Amsterdam coming to the fore as he led the club to three consecutive victories in his first three games to see out 2018 on a high.
With a host of talented PSL players in their ranks, Ajax have the personnel to mount a serious title challenge, and although currently sitting in fifth, they will be buoyed by the fact that they have managed to stay within touching distance despite their inconsistent form: they now sit on 24 points, seven behind leaders Stellenbosch but just three adrift of Eagles in second, making at least a play-off berth an achievable goal should 2019 continue in the manner in which 2018 ended.