Johannesburg - It’s that time of the season when the Absa Premiership table starts to take shape as teams at the top and those at the bottom begin to assume their natural log positions
Only nine points separate the bottom eight teams – three wins for three points each would close this gap – and, at the rate at which things are going, the relegation battle looks certain to go down to the wire.
With 30 more points for each club to still play for, bottom-of-the-log Baroka could still win the title. Wishful thinking!
Mathematically speaking, though, Baroka could finish with 44 points if they win all their remaining matches – and if the other teams all lose theirs – and lift the title, as they predicted at the beginning of the season.
With two victories in 20 matches, it is hard to imagine where more wins will come from.
It has been a struggle for the newcomers, who got the baptism of fire in their maiden season in the Absa Premiership.
But they are not alone in the predicament – another newcomer, Highlands Park, has also found the going very tough.
Together with Bloemfontein Celtic and Free State Stars, they occupy the bottom four spots on the table, and their prospects of survival look slim. Ajax Cape Town and Orlando Pirates are not out of the woods either and find themselves at the wrong end of the table.
With just four points currently separating the top five teams, there is no guarantee who will lift the trophy at the end of the season. Bidvest Wits, Cape Town City, SuperSport United, Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns are the lead contenders.
However, having played four fewer games than most of the other teams, defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns are best placed to retain their title.
Although games in hand do not always translate into points, Sundowns is well-positioned to win at least three games.
And, as long as other title contenders continue to drop points with regularity, Sundowns will remain title favourites.
Possible banana skin
Travelling across the continent will test Sundowns, Wits and SuperSport’s resolve, and put their title credentials to the test.
Cape Town City and Kaizer Chiefs will be hoping that the trio slips up, giving them the opportunity to take advantage at the top.
Sundowns take on Polokwane City on Tuesday ahead of a trip to Uganda for a second-leg CAF Champions League match against Kampala City Council on Saturday.
Bidvest Wits, SuperSport United and Platinum Stars will not be involved in league fixtures – they will be playing in the Nedbank Cup on Wednesday evening.
The game will be taxing for The Students after being in East London on Tuesday, where they played to a goalless draw against Chippa United. Saturday saw them clashing with Al Ahly in Cairo. They will end off in the Mother City, taking on Cape Town All Stars.
Meanwhile, Matsatsantsa are in Sudan for this evening’s clash (on Sunday) with Sudan’s Al-Ahly Shendi. They have to travel back for their game against the Royal Eagles at Harry Gwala Stadium.
Dikwena have been on a revival after winning three games on the trot and forcing their way into the top-eight bracket. They are also away in Uganda this weekend before taking on AmaZulu.
Cavin Johnson must be happy with how his players have turned their season around thus far.
New Year blues
Four clubs – all in the league’s bottom half – are still searching for their first win this year. One would need binoculars to see how far back Pirates and Polokwane City last won league matches.
Baroka last won in October and have gone 14 matches without a victory.
Pirates are second on the list, having had their last victory in November.
The once-mighty Sea Robbers are going through a lean spell, which has seen them going 11 games without a win.
Their new coach, Kjell Jonevret, looks like he has stabilised the defence as they have conceded only three goals in as many games.
It is the other end of the field that should be worrisome for the Swede.
Pirates only scored three goals – all coming from behind – in the three games he has overseen.
After a promising start, the wheels seem to have come off for Polokwane City, who have now gone seven matches without collecting maximum points.
They lost two matches and drew five.
Their Belgian coach, Luc Eymael, has resigned and left with immediate effect.
Even more concerning to Pirates followers is that top striker Tendai Ndoro has not scored since early December.
The Zimbabwean has also lost his place in the starting line-up. This has allowed Cape Town City’s captain, Lebogang Manyama, to catch up on the scoring charts.
They are both on 11 goals and the momentum to pip Ndoro to the award seems to be with Manyama.
Bidvest Wits’ Gabadinho Mhango and Polokwane’s Rodney Ramagalela are on eight goals each.