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PREMIERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS

Magnificent Downs, gallant Gallants and other notable PSL displays

Magnificent Downs, gallant Gallants and other notable PSL displays
Fans at the Nedbank Cup quarterfinal match between Stellenbosch FC and Mamelodi Sundowns at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town on 15 April 2023. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

Another DStv Premiership campaign has come to an end, with some records broken and some dreams shattered along the way.

It was another DStv Premiership campaign that started with Mamelodi Sundowns as the favourites to clinch the league title. That’s been the story for large chunks of the past decade.

They lived up to the billing, clinching a record-extending sixth Premiership title on the trot. Emphatically, at that.

They finished a comfortable 16 points ahead of second-placed Orlando Pirates — the joint-highest points gap between first and second place at the culmination of a season in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) era.

Masandawana are also the holders of that record after setting it as recently as last season.

Sundowns’ latest league triumph came after just 23 matches played — another domi­neering success and a record for the earliest a South African top-flight side has won a league title since the PSL was established in 1996.

They were holders of the previous record as well, winning the league after 25 matches in the 2006/2007 season. This latest league success is Masandawana’s 13th overall since the inception of South Africa’s top flight in its current guise.

Additionally, the Tshwane giants set a South African top-flight record of 15 league wins on the trot this season. The number of points they amassed throughout another domestically dominant campaign was 70 — one shy of their own record of 71, which the club set seven seasons ago.

“I am very proud of these players [for] what they have done this season, over 10 months. This is a competition that you have to win with consistency,” said Sundowns’ head coach, Rulani Mokwena, after the team’s last league match of the season.

“To do it the way this group of players has done? They deserve a lot more credit than what is given. A lot more noise than what they get. Because they’ve been magnificent and they’ve been magnificent over 10 months, which is incredible.”

In spite of this dominance, it will be another bittersweet end to the season for the Brazilians after their dream of winning a second Champions League title was snuffed by Wydad Casablanca of Morocco. 

Gallant effort

psl

Katlego Otladisa of Marumo Gallants and Arson Jean Venon of Elgeco Plus during a CAF Confederation Cup match at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on 15 October 2022. (Photo: Philip Maeta / Gallo Images)

At the opposite end of the table sit Marumo Gallants. Or rather, sat Gallants. Because despite their gallant fight to survive relegation, the club has been relegated to the second tier of South African soccer — the Motsepe Foundation Championship.

Although Sundowns went into the continental competition with the expectation and belief they could win it, it was different for fellow South African side Gallants.

They were participating in the Confederation Cup because of a technicality. During the 2021/2022 season, they reached the final of the Nedbank Cup but were defeated by Sundowns to finish as silver medallists.

The team that wins the Cup qualifies for the auxiliary interclub competition.

However, with Sundowns already qualified for the Champions League, the baton fell to Gallants.

They took it and sprinted to the Confederation Cup last four — where they were eventually vanquished by Tanzanian side Yanga SC after navigating past Egyptian outfit ­Pyramids in the quarterfinals.

Before that, they managed an impressive first-place finish in their Confed group, in just their second year in the South African top flight after they bought the status of Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila in 2021.

But, while they were enjoying their African honeymoon, things were not coming together domestically. For large parts of the season, the Limpopo side hovered in and around the relegation zone after they brought up the rear at the end of the season.

“I am shattered. It never crossed my mind that [we would be relegated],” said Gallants’ gaffer, Raymond Mdaka.

“We were on top of the world just a few weeks ago — after eliminating a powerful Egyptian club in Pyramids in a Confederation Cup quarterfinal, and then picking up valuable league points at home,” the coach added.

“What probably counted against us in the end was a lack of strength in depth. We are a small club and lack the financial resources of many other [SA] teams.”

Of course, the team’s officials being held hostage in a foreign country and players reportedly downing tools because of dis­agreements over Confed-related bonuses did little to help the club in their ultimate endeavour this season — retaining their Premiership status.

In spite of their splendid displays in continental competition, Gallants had the worst away record in the SA top-flight this season. They managed to accumulate only 10 from a possible 45 points on their domestic travels.

The Limpopo outfit also claimed the joint most number of draws of any top-flight club this season, alongside TS Galaxy. These stalemates ultimately cost the former. Severely. 

The rest

psl hunt

SuperSport United’s Gavin Hunt during the Nedbank Cup Last 32 match against Dondol Stars at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria on 8 February 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

SuperSport United, who finished third during their campaign after Gavin Hunt returned to the club, were the only team to navigate their campaign having avoided defeat on home soil.

Hunt’s men won 10 and drew five in front of their home support this season.

This success came even after the PSL hierarchy in March banned the Tshwane club from hosting matches at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville. The league deemed the club’s traditional home venue below the standard required to host matches.

Regardless, SuperSport persevered after playing their home matches at an array of alternative “home” venues — maintaining their unbeaten home run in the process.

Perhaps, after Gallants, the most disappointed side at the end of the Premiership season will be Richards Bay. The Natal Rich Boyz were flying in the first half of the season, in spite of being the rookies of the recently concluded campaign.

At one point the KwaZulu-Natal side sat second behind Sundowns — trailing the Tshwane juggernaut by just five points.

However, after the Fifa World Cup break, their fortunes turned almost 180 degrees.

They failed to win any of their final 14 games, flirting with relegation and ultimately finishing just four points above the danger zone.

In their sophomore top-flight season, they will aim to use these lessons to improve. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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