Season’s struggles of basement dwellers analysed

Ernst Middendorp was unable to save Cape Town Spurs from relegation. | BackpagePix

Ernst Middendorp was unable to save Cape Town Spurs from relegation. | BackpagePix

Published May 28, 2024


Starting today, Independent Newspapers will break down the DStv Premiership season club by club. Here, Smiso Msomi and Herman Gibbs give their verdict on the clubs that finished in the bottom four, including the relegated Cape Town Spurs, promotion/relegation play-off participants Richards Bay and the pair of teams that just survived the dreaded drop.

Kabelo Mahlasela of Royal AM. | BackpagePix

13th – ROYAL AM FC

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Royal AM barely escaped being drawn into the possibility of needing the play-offs to secure their top-flight status following what was a difficult season for the club.

Given their inability to sign players at the start of the season due to their transfer ban, just survival would’ve been the main target for Thwihli Thwahla, which was achieved in the end, albeit with an anxiety-filled last few weeks of the season. A win over Moroka Swallows on the final day ensured at least another season in the top flight for the Pietermaritzburg-based outfit.

Best player: The 33-year-old club captain, Kabelo Mahlasela, played the second-most minutes and recorded four assists this campaign as he led from the middle during a difficult period for the club.

Manager's ins and outs: Royal AM elected to stick with head coach John Maduka for the entire season, and sensibly enough, considering a huge chunk of the club’s remaining players arrived with him from Bloemfontein Celtic.

The 53-year-old is expected to remain with the club, with uncertainty surrounding when their ban might be lifted.

Gabadinho Mhango of Moroka Swallows. | BackpagePix


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The Birds will be glad to see the back of 2023/24, a traumatic season.

At the start of the year, the club was rocked when players reportedly went on strike because they hadn’t received their salaries. The team lost six points in December after failing to fulfil two fixtures.

Swallows shockingly axed 22 players who refused to play these matches. After that punishment, relegation clouds gathered overhead but the club won two of its last five Premiership matches to ensure survival.

Best player: Malawian striker Gabadinho Mhango was a late signing this season but has emerged as one of the club’s most valuable players. He scored some crucial goals when relegation loomed.

Manager's ins and outs: The 36-year-old Musa Nyatama of Swallows is the youngest coach in the Premiership. He took over from the experienced Steve Kompela and had to work with an untried squad after many rookies were still finding their feet at Swallows.

Sanele Barns of Richards Bay FC. | BackpagePix


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The second season in the top flight is always the trickiest for recently promoted clubs, as they are expected to make the step up after initially surviving relegation in their first campaign.

The Natal Rich Boyz were unfortunately unable to make this step up this season, resulting in them requiring to jostle in the play-offs to try to save their top-flight status. Despite closing out the season with an impressive win over Stellenbosch, Richards Bay finished 15th in the league standings and avoided automatic relegation.

Best player: Midfielder Sanele Barns was one of the few shining lights in an otherwise bleak season for Richards Bay. The attacker created the most chances in the entire league this season and scored himself a nomination for midfielder of the season.

Manager's ins and outs: Head coach Vusumuzi Vilakazi has achieved half of the job he was entrusted with when the club released Kaitano Tembo in December and now has the play-offs to justify his appointment.

Ashley Cupido of Cape Town Spurs. | BackpagePix


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The Urban Warriors’ blazing victory over Kaizer Chiefs, for all its intrinsic significance, gave a different feel to the club’s relegation fate, which had already been decided two weeks ago.

It was Spurs’ Premiership swansong, but going out in a blaze of glory allowed them to discard that death-warmed-up look. Goodness knows where Spurs found that extra oomph. After 90 minutes, a 4-0 scoreline rather than a 2-0 one would have been more realistic.

Best player: Spurs’ No 1 striker Ashley Cupido showed on Saturday why he is on the shopping list of Chiefs and Sundowns. With three Chiefs defenders closing in, he scored from outside the penalty area.

Manager's ins and outs: Coach Ernst Middendorp arrived when the club had barely won a match halfway through the season. Once assessing the situation, he promoted a few rookies from the Diski team. In the end, the relegated Spurs were unbeaten in their final four matches.

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