TEN points off the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League top and still dreaming of winning the title?
Well, this must be a modern day miracle waiting to happen for Highlanders FC, their beleaguered coach Mark Mathe and the Peter Dube-led executive.
Sunday’s 0-4 thumping by Caps United at the National Sports Stadium (NSS) — their sixth loss of the season — left Highlanders clinging to fourth place with 39 points, 10 off leaders Dynamos and chances of finishing in the top four slowly receding.
This was Highlander’s third league defeat in a row after the 0-1 loss to Harare City and 1-3 to ZPC Kariba that eventually saw the departure of head coach Kelvin Kaindu.
With matches against Chicken Inn, Chapungu and Chiredzi at Hartsfield Rugby ground, Hwange and Shabanie Mine away from home, the best that Highlanders can achieve in this unforgettable season is a top-eight finish.
From these five matches, only the home games against Chapungu and Chiredzi are winnable.
On Sunday, Mathe made two critical errors — team selection and taking out Joel Ngodzo with just 40 minutes of the game played.
Mthulisi Maphosa had spent the week in the courts, spewing bile on sexual exploits of the same teammates that he was supposed to play with at the NSS, yet he found himself in the starting line-up. Welcome Ndiweni deserves a starting berth in that team, so does Pasca Manhanga.
Goalkeeper Njabulo Nyoni had no business being in that team. There was no reason to drop captain Ariel Sibanda on the day. If Mathe wanted to be his own man and be applauded for making bold decisions, he simply chose the wrong match.
Nyoni has always been a ball of nerves, lacks confidence, does not command his defence and is a poor communicator.
Former coach Kelvin Kaindu had converted Felix Chindungwe into a marvelous shield for the defence, but Mathe chose to play him in defence. That meant that Bosso lost shape and allowed Tendai Samanja free space to roam up and down.
According to Mathe, Charles Sibanda plays better on the left-wing attack. But when you have a hard-running but inexperienced Gabriel Nyoni upfront, you need to pair him up with the tried and tested players.
The defence did an atrocious job at set-pieces and wing attacks, especially from Ronald Pfumbidzai and Hardlife Zvirekwi, who had a field day and ventured upfront at any given moment as there was no threat coming from Highlanders.
Highlanders’ substitutions Manhanga, Ndiweni and Zibande were better off starting the match as they added some fluidity in play in the later stages of the second half, and could have done better if they had a more organised defence and keeper.
Ball supply to Nyoni was pathetic and that allowed Stephen Makatuka and David Chipala some freedom of movement.
Not that Caps United did not do their homework. They did, and plugged the holes on the wings, used counter attacks and knowing that Nyoni, after seeing him against Dynamos, would be a weak point together with Ndlovu, they attacked straight through the middle.
When the middle was closed up, Pfumbidzai and Zvirekwi directed operations from the left and right wings respectively and that worked wonders.
Samanja played in a box, moving left and right, but because Maphosa was slower to the ball, he (Samanja) had room to move up and quickly reverted back to support his defence if they lost possession.
Player ratings (out of 10)
Njabulo Nyoni — 3
Bruce Kangwa — 4
Innocent Mapuranga — 3
Dumisani Ndlovu — 3
Eric Mudzingwa — 4
Felix Chindungwe — 4
Mthulisi Maphosa — 2
Joel Ngodzo — 2
Rahman Kutsanzira — 3
Charles Sibanda — 3
Gabriel Nyoni — 3
Pascal Manhanga for Ngodzo 40th min
Welcome Ndiweni for Maphosa, 66th min
Ozias Zibande for Sibanda 71st min