Season review: Bidvest Wits

Continuing in alphabetical order, the next club on the list is Gauteng-based Bidvest Wits.

Following their historic maiden top-flight triumph, Wits entered the 2017/18 campaign full of confidence, and had made some statement in the off-season transfer window, bringing in the likes of former Bafana Bafana star Steven Pienaar, Europe-based Daylon Claasen, Serbian defender Slavko Damjanovic and Egyptian striker Amr Gamal.

Yet their season-opening 1-0 loss to Cape Town City would set the tone for the entire season, as three losses and two draws from their opening five games immediately put them on the back foot.

Amid coach Gavin Hunt’s much talked-about insistence that his entire championship-winning backline was injured for the first half of the campaign, the defending champions could not get going as they reached the halfway stage of the season bottom of the log – a position they occupied for three consecutive weeks. Damjanovic, Pienaar and Gamal didn’t last long, while their problems upfront were plain to see – the team failed to score more than one goal in a league match for 13 consecutive games over four months between September and January.

The start of the new year brought some hope as the Clever Boys finally lifted themselves out of the relegation zone, going nine games without defeat over February and March.

Three losses in four games thereafter, including a humiliating 4-0 drubbing by Orlando Pirates, continued the Students’ woes however, despite January recruit Lehlohonolo Majoro’s contribution of four goals, as Wits hobbled over the finish line in May, ending a disappointing season in 13th place.

In stark contrast to their dismal league form at the time, Wits managed to find solace in the Telkom Knockout. Needing extra-time to beat Free State Stars in the first round, three consecutive 1-0 victories thereafter saw them lift the TKO crown, with Vincent Pule striking in added time in the final to secure the narrow victory.

Wits’ MTN8 title defence ended in a whimper as they lost both home and away legs to Cape Town City, with the Cape club knocking their Braamfontein rivals out at the first hurdle in the Nedbank Cup as well, inflicting a fourth defeat of the season on Hunt’s men (who would finally get revenge in a 2-1 league victory in February).

In continental competition, Wits negotiated the first round qualifiers with a 2-1 aggregate win over Mauritian outfit Pamplemousses, yet failed to reach the group stages of the CAF Champions League once again after coming unstuck against Angolan rivals Primeiro de Agosto.

Given a second bite of the cherry in the CAF Confederation Cup qualifiers, Wits failed to make the most of their opportunity, succumbing on away goals to Nigerian outfit Enyimba to miss out on the group stages yet again.

Striking Statistics
Wits endured the third-worst conversion rate (6.1%) of all teams in the PSL, despite having the most penalty box touches (19.5 per game) and the most final third passes (22.6%) of any club in the league. They also conceded the joint-most number of goals (10) in the last 15 minutes of a game, yet conceded the least amount of shots of any team in the league – an average of 9.4 per match.

Areas of improvement
A paltry 27 goals scored in 30 league games is a poor return for any team, and not just for the defending league champions, whose top league scorer ended up being January recruit Majoro. With James Keene having left the club, they will no doubt be on the lookout for a new goal-getter to lead their strike force in next season’s campaign.