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Wits striker Keene justified Hunt's faith in him by scoring the goal of his career

By Marc Strydom | 2017-05-20 13:07:19.0

James Keene never managed to replicate his scoring form of the previous season in Bidvest Wits’ historic 2016-17 Absa Premiership season‚ but the big English centre-forward was on hand to score one of the most crucial goals of his career.

Battling injury for the first half of the season‚ and never completely fit in the second‚ Keene managed only two goals for Wits as they won their first league title in a 96-year history.

But the irrepressible journeyman centre-forward – described by coach Gavin Hunt as the archetypal English professional – was on hand to take the pressure off for Wits in their clinching game against Polokwane City on Wednesday night.

Rising to Elias Pelembe’s cross‚ Keene perfectly glanced in a fourth-minute headed goal. For a Wits team who had almost choked in their previous game with a 3-1 defeat away against Free State Stars‚ that strike settled the nerves and the Clever Boys went on to a 2-0 win‚ and the title with a game to spare.

It was probably as valuable as all seven goals Keene had scored in his nine starts helping Wits finish runners-up arriving midway through 2015-16.

“It really is fantastic. It’s always amazing to put on the CV‚” Keene said after the game on Wednesday‚ unable to find quite the right words‚ as can be the case immediately after winning a league title‚ when the achievement has not quite settled into the consciousness yet.

“It’s huge – it’s a massive achievement for myself‚ a massive achievement for the club.

“It’s only the start of great things to come. It’s never easy to make history with a club‚ but to do it at Wits is absolutely fantastic.

“I’ve been with two clubs who have won the league‚ but I haven’t been there. It’s massive for me‚ yeah.

“I’ve made myself a home here. I’ve got fantastic friends on and off the pitch.

“Wits is a very professional club in every way. They way they work and the staff.

“It’s never easy to be out for a long time. But I’ve worked hard and stayed professional and I was ready for today.”

Wits coach Gavin Hunt took a chance on Keene‚ 31‚ and in need of serious knee surgery at the end of 2015-16‚ exercising a one-year extension on the player’s contract based on the promise the striker had shown.

Keene might not have been able to deliver quite so much as he had hoped to in 2016-17 to reward Wits for that faith‚ but that one crucial strike went a long way making up for it.

The striker who has played most of his career in Scandinavia played some key matches for Wits as they bounced back from a seemingly crippling home defeat against SuperSport United with victories against Highlands Park‚ title rivals Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates.

They almost choked again against Stars‚ then wrapped things up with a game of inch-perfect precision against Polokwane.

“We showed character. We bounced back from the games we lost‚ and from the game we lost last week‚” Keene said.

“We kept our heads and stayed smart. We rewarded ourselves for all the hard work we’ve done this season‚ and even in preseason.

“Gavin’s not easy‚ and we rewarded ourselves with this.”


- TMG Digital