IT'S make or break time when the Absa Premiership resumes next Tuesday after a five-week break, with most teams facing their last six games before the season ends in early March.
Four teams are in with a chance of winning the championship and two candidates have emerged as favourites to go back to the National First Division, or at best feature in the promotion and relegation playoffs.
SuperSport United, the defending champions, are still in pole position at the top of the table with 47 points despite losing their last match of 2009 to their nearest challengers and Pretoria city rivals, Mamelodi Sundowns, who are second on 44 points with a match in hand.
Chiefs have slowly clawed their way back into contention with 41 points and the dark horses are Santos with 39 points with a match in hand (against Sundowns).
The relegation stakes look set to be contested by the two promoted clubs, Jomo Cosmos and Mpumalanga Black Aces, who both have 19 points with Aces having a better goal difference. Free State Stars are third from the bottom, but they have 25 points and seem safe.
The bottom side is automatically relegated while the side finishing second from the bottom goes into the relegation and promotion playoffs at the end of the season.
It will be do or die for Chiefs when they tackle Moroka Swallows at Dobsonville Stadium next Tuesday night, according to Amakhosi midfield star Tinashe Nengomasha, who said Amakhosi had not given up hope of challenging for the championship that has eluded Chiefs since the 2004-2005 season. Chiefs ended a successful warm-up period by winning an international tournament to open the new Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane last weekend where they defeated SuperSport 4-2 in the final.
Said the midfield ace: "We must not read too much into winning friendly tournaments, but it was nice to win it all the same. However, as a team we know the big game is Swallows. If we win that match, then I believe we would be regarded as serious title contenders."
But Nengomasha said no Soweto derby is easy, especially against the unpredictable Birds: "They beat us in the first round and always rise to the occasion, but so will we."
Nengomasha said their preparations under coach Vladimir Vermezovic had gone well.
"We are improving but the key will be Swallows. If we lose we will be out of the race, but a win will be the boost we need to kick-start our challenge the two sides who are favourites to win the title, United and Downs."
Nengomasha was supported by his goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who is suspended for the next two matches, but is confident Chiefs will beat Swallows.
"We are still in the title race. But I agree Swallows pose problems," he said.
"We lost 2-0 in the first round to Swallows and need to make sure we reverse that next Tuesday." - Sapa