Maritzburg ready for Stars

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The size and strength of Stars’ strikers — short, muscular Diyo Sibisi and lanky, awkward Sthembiso Ngcobo — is a pointer to the direct and physical approach the Free Staters like to employ.

“Of all the teams in the PSL, Stars play closest to the way a First Division side plays,” United right-back Tshepo Mashishi said yesterday.

“They are a hard-running team and throw themselves into every tackle, especially when they play at home.”

Mashishi should know a thing or two about Stars — he captained Thanda Royal Zulu in both their league games against the Free Staters last season and the Durban side did well, winning 2-0 at home and drawing 2-2 away.

The right-back is reluctant to say why he left Thanda in the off-season.

“I don’t want to dwell on what happened between me and my former team … now I am focusing on my career at my new team.”

Mashishi, originally from Johannesburg, is in his second stint in Pietermaritzburg, having been part of the famous Maritzburg City First Division team in the early part of the decade when he was on loan from Kaizer Chiefs.

He went on to Hellenic, from where he was sold twice when the franchise for that club went first to Benoni Premier United and then to Thanda.

“Of all the teams I have played for, Maritzburg City is up there with Benoni Premier United … Pietermaritzburg is a good city for football because it’s quiet and you can focus on the game. The people are friendly and the supporters are great,” Mashishi said.

The defender says United will hope to continue their four-match unbeaten start to the season against Stars tomorrow.

“We have started well, but we have to make sure we go into each game with humility.

“The coach has made it clear to us that even if we do lose, if we have played well and lost with dignity then that is also OK.

“Right now we are concentrating on the cup game on Saturday, though we also know that we have a huge league game against the champions [SuperSport United] in Pretoria on Wednesday.”

Ea Lla Koto’s new coach Themba Sithole will be in charge of his first official match at the helm of Stars on Saturday afternoon.

The resignation of Owen Da Gama just over two weeks ago has handed Sithole the chance to prove his worth, and the former Carara Kicks coach will be hoping his side can get his tenure off to a winning start.

However, many claim that Ea Lla Koto are not the same team they were last season, with the departure of Malawian coach Kinnah Phiri proving to be the turning point in their fortunes.

Sithole will have to prove that Stars still have a collection of quality players and step out of Phiri's shadow if he is to be a success at the Free State club.

And he almost got off to a great start in the friendly Macufe Cup recently, with Stars losing to Bloemfontein Celtic in a final that they dominated and should have won.

Sithole’s tactical battle with United’s experienced Gordon Igesund could be the key to deciding what promises to be an evenly-matched cup tie.

United have a slight injury concern over defender Gary Goldstone, who picked up an ankle knock earlier in the week.

But the player, who has served his suspension following the highly publicised incident with Kaizer Chiefs’ Tshepo Bulu, should be available for selection on Saturday.

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