Continuing alphabetically, KwaZulu-Natal club Maritzburg United is up next.
After achieving a record-high seventh-place league finish last year, Maritzburg United looked to keep up their steady progress this season, putting their faith in former player and young coach Fadlu Davids to lead the charge. Siyanda Xulu was the club’s big-name pre-season signing, in what turned out to be a masterful coup for the Pietermaritzburg club as the Kaizer Chiefs flop went on to claim the PSL Defender of the Season award.
After two wins in their opening two games of the season, United’s campaign then took a twist as they failed to register a win or even a goal over their next eight games, dropping to as low as 13th in the Absa Premiership standings.
Five wins in eight games thereafter pulled The Team of Choice back up the standings, and with just two losses over their last 10 games of the season, the young Maritzburg squad held their nerve to end the season in a club-record fourth place on the table.
Making a statement with a 1-0 win over Mamelodi Sundowns in the first round of last year’s MTN8, Maritzburg then drew their first leg quarter-final 1-1 before going down 2-0 in the second leg to eventual winners SuperSport United as they bowed out in the semi-finals.
Their Telkom Knockout journey lasted just one game following a penalty shootout loss to Platinum Stars after a goalless draw, yet the Nedbank Cup provided another opportunity for Davids’ young and motivated squad to raise their game and prove their worth, which they did in some style, overcoming Swallows, Royal Eagles, Bloemfontein Celtic and then Sundowns before finally coming unstuck against Free State Stars 1-0 in a closely-fought final.
Aided by PSL Young Player and Midfielder of the Season Siphesihle Ndlovu’s fine form, Maritzburg scored the third-most goals of any team in the league (36), and scored the most goals (12) of all teams in the last 15 minutes of the game, as well as the most second half goals of all 16 PSL clubs (28).
The KwaZulu-Natal club enjoyed the fourth-best conversion rate (10.1%) of all clubs, as well as the fourth-best shot accuracy percentage (31.8%).
They were equally impressive on the other end of the pitch, conceding the second-least amount of goals in the league (23).
Areas of improvement
Following a stellar season where they punched well above their weight, it will no doubt be a tough ask for Maritzburg to replicate this season’s impressive form next season without delving into the transfer market, with coach Davids admitting last month that he had been utilising a depleted squad that had still not replaced high-profile departures Kurt Lentjies, Evans Rusike and Denis Weidlich, who had all left over the course of the season.
Added to this, Davids will be looking to instil a lot more steel and discipline into his charges: Maritzburg had the worst percentage of tackles and interceptions (10.9 per game) of all teams in the league this season, as well as the lowest percentage of ground duels won (44.8%). They also picked up the second-most number of yellow cards (62) of all teams in the league.