How Ajax blew chance for direct promotion

Sihle Ndebele Journalist
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 12: Abednigo Mosiatlhaga of Ajax Cape Town during the GladAfrica Championship match between Ajax Cape Town and Richards Bay at Rand Stadium on August 12, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 12: Abednigo Mosiatlhaga of Ajax Cape Town during the GladAfrica Championship match between Ajax Cape Town and Richards Bay at Rand Stadium on August 12, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Gavin Barker/Gallo Images/BackpagePix

Coming into the Biologically Safe Environment (BSE), Ajax Cape Town were sitting comfortably at the summit of the GladAfrica Championship table and looked certain to clinch automatic promotion.

However, things turned ugly for the Urban Warriors as they were eventually ousted by Swallows from the top. Level on 57 points, the Dube Birds pipped the Urban Warriors to the second-tier title by virtue of a better goal difference.

Swallows were just one goal better than Ajax. But taking into account that the Cape club were once nine points clear, it shouldn't have reached the stage where they had to rely on goal difference.

A number of factors contributed to Ajax's slip-up, but the departure of Dutch mentor Andries Ulderink on the last day of January is where the disaster started. Calvin Marlin replaced Ulderink.

Ulderink had overseen 19 games, with 13 wins, four losses and two draws. Marlin, as a caretaker coach who’d never been the main mentor before, started well but as time went by his lack of experience caught up with him.

The retired goalkeeper managed Ajax’s last six games before the season was halted by the spread of coronarivirus mid-March. In those five games, Marlin won three, drew twice and lost one, showing he had a great start to his coaching life.

With just six matches to spare, fast forward to August when the season resumed in Gauteng, the chosen BSE, Ajax couldn’t maintain the same momentum. In the six games they played in the bio-bubble, the Urban Warriors afforded three victories, suffering the same number of defeats.

Losing 2-1 to JDR Stars in the penultimate round, while Swallows beat Richards Bay 2-1 in a synchronised fixture, also proved a major setback for the Capetonians. In that game, Ajax were without their talisman Abednego Mosiatlhaga, who won the Golden Boot with 18 goals.

In the very same catastrophic match against JDR, it was evident that Marlin was a bit wet behind the ears, leaving experienced strikers like Mohau Mokate and Eleazar Rodgers on the bench with the latter coming on later to score the goal that ended as a mere consolation.

As a coastal club, the high altitude in Gauteng also didn’t help Ajax’s cause.

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