Cape Town - Maritzburg United coach Eric Tinkler claimed there were enough positives to trim the disappointment of watching his new-look side fall 1-0 to Golden Arrows in their 2019/20 Absa Premiership opener at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium yesterday.
Tinkler’s men left Durban empty-handed after Michael Gumede netted a memorable goal on debut for Arrows in the 46th minute of a provincial derby that was lively on the whole but contained fewer clear-cut scoring opportunities than both coaches would have liked.
Tinkler, however, said he was delighted with the attitude and energy displayed by his team in what was their first away match of the 30-game season.
“Obviously there is disappointment about the loss,” he said, “but I am quite happy with the performance of the team, from what I saw.
“In the first half [Arrows] did not really create anything. … At half-time I informed the players of the importance of winning their duels, but unfortunately that’s how we conceded.
“But when you look at that performance in the first half, I thought we created the better chances.
“I was happy at half-time. Then we conceded that goal, but I thought the players responded well [in trying to equalise]. We definitely deserved more from the game.
“I need to take positives from the game, and I thought there were many.
“Everybody worked hard and they did not drop their heads after we conceded. Our set-pieces weren’t great, to be honest.”
A small crowd saw Tinkler grant debuts to three players in the form of Zimbabwean attacker Gabriel Nyoni and former Bidvest Wits midfieders Phumlani Ntshangase and Daylon Claasen.
But the 49-year-old coach was not able to field his two new signings from Down Under, Dan Morgan and Micah Lea’Alafa at the back and midfield respectively, because their work permits had not been processed yet.
Up for baptism in the Arrows line-up crafted by Steve Komphela on a bright and breezy day in the west Durban township were four men previously earning their money in the National First Division, goalminder Edmore Sibanda, attacker Gumede, defender Ntsako Makhubela and midfielder Lindokuhle Mtshali.
This was the start of the tactical battle between two Bafana Bafana legends known for strong skills in breaking up opposition attacks.
It also featured both Tinkler and Komphela starting out with 3-5-2 formations.
But from early on there appeared to be a contrast in styles, with Arrows largely keeping the ball on ground and having the diminutive Lindokuhle Mtshali as pivot, while most of Maritzburg’s forays into the box came from aerial balls and they enjoyed several more corner kicks than the home side.
However, there were more territorial skirmishes than thrilling one-on-one incidents involving striker and goalkeeper in either box, with Arrows being let down by their final pass.
Just after the interval, though, Gumede reacted quickly to a long pass from midfield and lobbed the ball over United goalkeeper Richard Ofori and into the net to give Arrows the lead.
Tinker’s men then became more ferocious going forward in search of an equaliser and the introduction of young striker Bongokuhle Hlongwani came with a change of formation that partly featured Nyoni shifting from a striker to wing position.
Sibanda, the Arrows keeper, had to be on full alert and he was fortunate to have midfielder Divine Lunga clear a close-range header from Nyoni off the line while performing defensive duties as the clocked ticked away.
An increasing number of balls were thrown into the Arrows box, but a goal remained elusive for Tinkler’s warriors, who will next face Highlands Park on Friday at Harry Gwala Stadium.
In other games yesterday, Kaizer Chiefs edged Highlands 3-2 in Tembisa while Black Leopards lost 1-0 to Polokwane City in Thohoyandou.
Chiefs got a winning goal from towering defender Erick Mathoho in the 83rd minute to ensure that the ‘Big Three’ of SA football all started the new campaign with three points, after Sundowns and Pirates beat SuperSport and Celtic respectively on Saturday.