Draws cost Highlanders league title

HARARE - Football has been described by one of the game’s greatest exponents Pele as the “beautiful game”, and in the just-ended Castle Premiership season, Bulawayo giants Highlanders certainly gave substance to that description by treating their multitudes of followers to some beautiful exhibition of football.

The coming in of Zambian coach Kelvin Kaindu saw Highlanders being transformed into a mean machine that brushed past their opponents with some powerful midfield play that was centered on Mthulisi Maphosa and Peter “Rio” Moyo.

Well, at least until Week 10 when Bosso suffered their first home draw of the season in a Bulawayo derby against Chicken Inn.

The match ended in a goalless stalemate and could easily have been won by the Gamecocks had they been more attack-minded.

In a recent chat with Chicken Inn coach Adam Ndlovu on the sidelines of the Soccer Star Selection function last week, the former Zimbabwe forward admitted that he had studied Highlanders’ game plan prior to their game and had come up with a plan to neutralise their midfield threat.

“One thing that I learnt from Roy Barreto is that you should never let the opposition’s playmaker play his usual game and I therefore assigned Thabani (Goredema) and Danny (Phiri) to man-mark Rio and Mthulisi,” Ndlovu said.

“As a result Highlanders failed to click because their midfield was not ticking and we could have won that game had luck been on our side.”

Ndlovu was not the only coach who had realised that Highlanders’ strength was in their midfield partnership of Moyo and Maphosa as most teams soon came up with their own strategies to deal with the duo.

As a consequence, Highlanders dropped more points in another goalless draw away to Motor Action in Week 11 and this was followed by a 1-1 draw at home against Harare City. The match against City left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Bosso faithful as they were denied what looked to be a genuine goal by match officials, but Highlanders were no longer the swashbuckling side that they were in the early stages of the season.

Bosso did rediscover their winning touch in their next two games when they overcame Gunners and CAPS United by a similar 1-0 scoreline, but they came unstuck against city neighbours Quelaton, who held them to a 1-1 draw in Week 15.

After the Quelaton setback, Highlanders then drew 1-1 with bitter rivals Dynamos in a rescheduled game that was supposed to have been played in Week 5 but was moved forward due to DeMbare’s continental commitments.

Bosso’s early season lead was drastically cut by their failure to pick up maximum points towards the halfway mark and this made it easy for Harare giants Dynamos to overtake them and go on to defend their title on goal difference.

Highlanders drew nine times throughout the whole season and Tshilamoya fans will look back at all these draws as the major reason why their team finished as bridesmaids.

Nine draws meant Highlanders dropped 27 points and this meant their losing just a single match this year counted for nothing as their title rivals Dynamos outscored them to lift the title for the second year running.

It could have been different though had the Highlanders technical team realised the need for an out-and-out striker and duly fielded mid-season signing Cleopas Dube when he came on board.

The system that had worked so perfectly for them in the early stages, that hinged on build-ups from midfield, ceased to be effective when the other teams caught up to it and most teams started congesting the middle of the park.

This called for a plan ‘B’ in which an out-and-out striker could have given Bosso a new dimension. Dube showed he could have easily provided this option when he started playing in the dying stages of the season, but it proved to be a case of too little too late. - Sakheleni Nxumalo

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