DStv Premiership relegation survival scramble nears boiling point
Four teams find themselves at the wrong end of the table. They now only have a handful of games to escape relegation.
Imagine you’re being chased by a pack of lions. The further you run, the more ground to escape you chew up. Until there is nowhere left to hide.
A similar situation is facing four DStv Premiership teams as the knell sounds for the 2022/2023 top-flight campaign.
Marumo Gallants, Swallows, Chippa United and Maritzburg United are all in real danger of falling to the second tier of South African soccer — the Motsepe Foundation Championship.
They are running out of time and games to make their Houdini-esque escapes after poor showings this season. Only two are guaranteed survival. Second-last will be in the playoffs. One will definitely depart the league. That’s the one that brings up the rear in the 16-team Premiership.
That unenviable position is currently occupied by Maritzburg, who face Richards Bay on Friday night. The KwaZulu-Natal team has only managed to collect 24 points from the 25 matches they have played.
The Team of Choice, as they are affectionately known, started off the year brightly. They won three of their first three matches in 2023. However, a run of one victory, one draw and six losses from their last eight league matches has plunged them into the abyss.
They have five games to plot an escape and avoid being relegated for the first time in over a decade.
“We’ve dealt with this situation [of being relegation threatened] the entire season, that is where the club has been. [It] is nothing new to the players. The only thing that’s different is that there’s only five games left,” Maritzburg coach Fadlu Davids said.
How they would love a run similar to the one they had at the beginning of the year. Another nine-point haul would be invaluable for the side. However, their current form and morale make it a tough undertaking.
With a win against Richards Bay, Maritzburg can leapfrog 15th-placed Chippa. The Gqeberha-based club — which has played one more match than the Team of Choice — leads its fellow relegation struggler by just two points.
Owing to their game in hand, the Chilli Boys are not in action this weekend. A perfect opportunity for Davids and his men to apply some pressure if they claim maximum points.
Perennial relegation candidates Swallows are four points off the bottom, with 28 collected from 25 games. They face a Stellenbosch side still amped after earning a rare win over Premiership champions Mamelodi Sundowns last time out.
Last season the Dube Birds survived relegation by the skin of their teeth — finishing just one point ahead of the relegated Baroka.
This season they are keen to avoid the playoffs — which tend to be a logistical nightmare, as well as being taxing on the players considering they have to play extra matches.
Marumo Gallants are level on 28 points with Swallows, though with better goal difference. With the former not in action to continental commitments, the Dube Birds can leapfrog them to occupy a safer 13th spot.
Unlike the team that finishes bottom of the log, the team ending 15th will be granted a chance to bring itself out of the woods in the relegation/promotion playoffs — against two teams from the Championship.
History dictates that the one Premiership side that plays in the playoffs usually trumps the two teams from the second tier, to regain its status as a top-flight outfit.
Teams such as Chippa, Swallows and Maritzburg have been in the clutches of the crushing jaws of relegation in recent seasons, only to survive via the loophole that is the playoffs.
The last top-flight team to fall to the second tier of South African soccer after participating in the playoffs was the now-defunct Platinum Stars, during the 2017/2018 season.
Since then, it’s been one-way traffic for top-flight teams as they have regained their status in the Premiership via the playoffs, only to find themselves in another precarious position the following campaign. DM
DStv Premiership fixtures
Friday, 21 April:
Maritzburg vs Richards Bay (7:30pm)
Saturday, 22 April:
Orlando Pirates vs Cape Town City (3pm)
TS Galaxy vs Royal AM (3pm)
Stellenbosch vs Swallows (5:30pm)
Sunday, 23 April:
Sekhukhune United vs Kaizer Chiefs (3pm)
SuperSport United vs AmaZulu (5:30pm)