Fighters and Nico square off in play-offs
Nine months after their last competitive action, Nico United and Mogoditshane Fighters will go to war in Selibe Phikwe this Saturday in the First Leg of the First Division Playoffs.
With a place in the promised land of the Premier League awaiting the winners, both sides will be desperate to shrug off their thick cobwebs and hit the ground running.
Intriguingly, the do-or-die encounter pits the North’s best defence against the South’s sharpest shooters.
In finishing second last season, Fighters scored 25 goals in 18 league outings, two more than anyone else in the division.
With four games remaining, the Mogoditshane outfit was just a point behind leader’s Masitaoka and gaining momentum when Covid-19 brought football crashing to a halt.
The league never resumed, Masitaoka were declared champions, and Fighters were left to fight it out for promotion in the playoffs.
Nico suffered similar despair up North.
Having conceded just eight times in 18 league fixtures, with four games remaining, the Phikwe outfit were level on points with Sua Flamingoes, second by virtue of an inferior goal difference of two.
Agonizingly for Nico, it is not the first time goal difference has cost them big.
They were relegated from the Premier League in 2017, losing their place in the elite division to Police XI not by points – they both finished on 32 – but by 12 goals!
The cops survived the drop after a 0-0 draw with Sankoyo Bush Bucks on the final day of the season was enough to keep both sides up, consigning Nico to the dusty grounds of Division One North. They have been stuck there ever since.
Speaking to Voice Sport this week, Nico Coach, Peter Mochini said his team is determined to right recent wrongs and avoid further heartache.
“The good thing is that these are the same players we played with in the last season. The aim was to gain automatic promotion but it was unfortunate the league ended that way. The morale in the camp is very high and everyone is looking forward to the game. We have had few practice matches with the local regional clubs to test the level of fitness for our players and I am impressed. We have very good and young players who I believe can do a great job,” said the Majombolo minder, whose side’s last competitive run-out was a 2-1 victory over Calendar Stars back on 8 March.
A day earlier, Fighters wrapped up their campaign with a comfortable 2-0 win over Mochudi Rovers.
It is now 11 years since the Samba Boys last lit up the top flight. For a team that has won the Premier League four times, and were last crowned champions of the land in 2003 under the tutelage of Major David Bright, that is far too long.
Although he is anticipating a tough game, the man charged with bringing the glory days back to Mogoditshane, Thaloba Nthaga is confident he can do just that.
The Coach said he is aware of the importance of scoring an away goal and thus he intends to take the game to his Northern opponents.
Despite his optimism, Nthaga bemoaned the uncertainty that has plagued the build-up to Saturday’s game, noting it was difficult to prepare for the tie as the dates for the fixture kept changing.
Fighters will be without key midfielder, Kagiso Mokaeya for the first leg after the playmaker picked up consecutive yellow cards in their last two league games.
“We have other players who are equally capable to deliver. We are confident that we are going back to the Premier League and the time is now. We have to finish our match first leg and score important away goals,” said Nthaga.
The all-important second leg is set for 12 December in Mogoditshane. With a place at the top table up for grabs, the stakes could not be higher!