EXACTLY 14 days after Norman Mapeza was confirmed as FC Platinum coach, the moment of truth beckons for him this afternoon at Mandava when he leads his new troops into battle against title contenders Highlanders.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
It will be his biggest test so far since his arrival at Mandava and so early has it come.
A bright start has marked his promising tenure with a clean run of two matches. He knocked struggling Bantu Rovers out of the Chibuku Super Cup last weekend before edging resilient Black Rhinos at Rimuka, bringing the much-needed air of belief at Mandava.
But Highlanders’ desperate bid for a first league title since 2006 will not make Mapeza’s task easy this afternoon.
The former Warriors coach will be in charge of a side that appears jinxed against Bosso whom they have beaten only once in their seven league confrontations since FC Platinum’s debut Premier Soccer League season in 2011.
That victory came in the two sides’ first league meeting when FC Platinum upstaged Highlanders 2-0 at Mandava.
Bosso coach Kelvin Kaindu knows no defeat against the platinum miners and the Bulawayo giants’ four wins and two draws since 2011 present a tough game in the offing for Mapeza.
But the former Galatasaray midfielder is unperturbed by this early test.
“It is a fixture set before the season began and we do not have control over it,” said Mapeza. “In football you just have to expect anything at anytime. I am sure Highlanders are coming here to get three points and we also want that. They won their last match so they have confidence. But we are also out to get a positive result.”
A win for the platinum miners will definitely boost their confidence as the season gets into the home stretch.
With 10 games to go before the season ends and still within sight of the leaders, victory over Highlanders could see Mapeza’s side staking a claim on the league crown. But the coach has emphasised that he does not want to put his side under pressure by dwelling on that.
He however goes into battle with depleted arsenal following the suspension of their top striker Donald Ngoma and defensive linkman James Marufu. Arguably their best player this season, Marshall Mudehwe is also still out with an injury.
“It happens in football when you miss key players but you just have to look ahead and not cry much about it,” Mapeza said.
Their opponents Highlanders will not travel with new midfielder Pasca Manhanga who was red-carded in their last match against Triangle.
The midfielder quickly made his impact felt after he made the difference in the Chibuku Super Cup first round clash against Shabanie Mine with a goal, before assisting Charles Sibanda who struck in the edging of Triangle.
Highlanders also arrive at Mandava without injured forward Gabriel Nyoni, with their hopes mostly pinned on the league’s leading scorer Sibanda and Njabulo Ncube.
Kaindu is however not worried about the Mapeza touch that threatens his league title quest. “We are expecting a good game and we always believe the better side of the day will win,” said Kaindu.
“I think FC Platinum have always been a team that can do anything on their day. They will be at home which is an advantage to them, but we are also equally motivated by the improvements we have been making in our recent games.”
The Triangle win saw Bosso end a four-match winless run in the league and got them back on track for the league title bid.
“It is important to pick up points in every game that we play now since the race is getting into a crucial stage,” said Kaindu.
With their fierce rivals Dynamos defying turmoil in their camp by continuing to surge forward towards a fourth successive league crown, Highlanders know very well they are not in Zvishavane for a holiday.
Meanwhile, DeMbare will be seeking to consolidate their lead when they visit Triangle at Gibbo this afternoon.