Hunt turns to youngsters who ‘won MDC’ as Wits aim to end with a bang

Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt during the Nedbank Cup, quarterfinal against Real Kings at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium in Durban on March 13, 2020.
Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt during the Nedbank Cup, quarterfinal against Real Kings at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium in Durban on March 13, 2020.
Image: Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

Bidvest Wits have the joint-most games left to play in the return to football in the Gauteng bio-bubble along with Saturday evening’s Nedbank Cup semifinal opponents Mamelodi Sundowns, and a small squad, so drafting in young reserve players was a given, says coach Gavin Hunt.

Put another way, the winner of the semi between Sundowns and Wits at Orlando Stadium will play the most games in the bubble, as they will be the only two teams with nine games left in the Absa Premiership, plus the Nedbank last-four and final, making a total of 11 gruelling fixtures.

Cuwen Prince, Keenan Phillips, Mpho Mathebula, Malik Mashinini, Deon Horn, Kabelo Makola, and Lisakhanya Mlonyeni are among eight players promoted from Wits’ MultiChoice Diski Challenge (MDC) reserve team for their last 10 or 11 games of their existence, having been sold to Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila FC.

“We’ve had to do that,” Hunt said of the reserve team call-ups. “I mean, it’s physically impossible for us to play the amount of games in the amount of time that we have to play with the squad that we have had.

“I think, and I stand to be corrected, that we’ve got the smallest squad in the league. And nobody expected this pandemic to happen.

“So we’ve had to bring in some of the younger players because even this week coming now there’s no way we can get through it just with the squad of players that we’ve got.

“Even already we’ve picked up a few problems here and there with trying to load the training.

“So, ja, we’ve had to bring them in. They’ve got a lot to prove — they’ve won the [MDC] league even though it’s not official. But for me they’ve won the league.

“So they’ve done fantastically well. And let’s see if we can get them a contract going forward, and if I can help their futures. So let’s see how they do.”

Some PSL coaches have said their first few games in the bio-safe environment — after a five-month layoff as SA locked down due to Covid-19, and just a month’s training preparation with no friendlies — have said they will use their first few games as effective warm-ups.

Hunt’s team cannot afford such a luxury, starting with a must-win semifinal against Sundowns, then meeting Kaizer Chiefs (Wednesday, Orlando Stadium) and Orlando Pirates (Saturday, Ellis Park) in the league.

Wits may be in sixth place in the Premiership, 10 points behind leaders Chiefs, but a game in hand and two fixtures remaining against Amakhosi means they still have an outside shot at the title.

As in the Nedbank, much will depend on how their players respond to the sale of the club, which leaves Wits with nothing to lose, and the motivation to go out with a bang.

It can also rest on how the young talent from a promising reserve team, who were leading the MDC with a four-point lead with two games remaining when it was cancelled, respond to the call to arms.

Nedbank Cup semifinals —

Saturday:

Baroka FC v Bloemfontein Celtic (Orlando Stadium‚ 2pm)

Mamelodi Sundowns v Bidvest Wits (Orlando Stadium‚ 7.15pm)


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