Sundowns coach Mokwena: 'The reality is we are in control of the situation'

Rhulani Mokwena, assistant coach of Mamelodi Sundowns during the Nedbank Cup, Last 16 match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Polokwane City at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on March 10, 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa.
Rhulani Mokwena, assistant coach of Mamelodi Sundowns during the Nedbank Cup, Last 16 match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Polokwane City at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on March 10, 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix/Gallo Images

Mamelodi Sundowns are in a position of having banked points for most of the season‚ so if things get tough at the death end they will have an overdraft to dip into‚ co-coach Rulani Mokwena has said.

The DStv Premiership took a fascinating turn being blown open as Downs went to five points dropped in two games by following Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Kaizer Chiefs with Wednesday evening’s 0-0 draw against third-placed Golden Arrows at Loftus Versfeld. In Cape Town second-placed AmaZulu blew Cape Town City away 5-1.

That left Downs’ (48 points from 23 games) invincible aura – having been unbeaten in 21 games until they met Chiefs – shaken‚ as AmaZulu (47 from 25) narrowed the gap to a point‚ and Arrows (43 from 25) are five points behind.

Sundowns’ two games in hand present a significant advantage. But‚ as they face another tough match-up against Orlando Pirates at Orlando Stadium on Sunday‚ Downs will also be aware they could be entering the slump that every title-challenging team experiences‚ the length of which determines if they hold out for the title.

Biggest challengers AmaZulu had their slump at the start of the season‚ before Benni McCarthy’s arrival as coach‚ and Bafana Bafana’s all-time to scorer has Durban’s sleeping giants flying.

That would appear to indicate that‚ with all the playing and technical power and facilities‚ Sundowns’ biggest challenge will be mental to prevent doubt creeping into the players’ minds‚ and reverse their mini-slump quickly.

“The reality is we are in control of the situation – we trust the players‚” Mokwena said in Thursday’s pre-match press conference to the big clash against fourth-placed Pirates.

“We said to the players yesterday that they might not always trust us. Because you know how players are – when they’re playing [in the first team] they trust the coaches‚ and when they don’t play they don’t trust the coaches‚ and are not happy with all the decisions.

“They may not always trust us but we have full confidence in our players‚ and we trust them. And the experience that they have in terms of winning and success‚ of course‚ is the culture‚ is part of Mamelodi Sundowns.

“And when you are in a position like that you know that you sit in a favourable position – you are in control. And when you are in control you don’t stress about anybody else.

“Our focus is on trying to make sure we finish this block of games as best as we possibly can. We’ve got certain targets and it’s clear that with this block we may not reach the targeted points.

“But we have done a very good job‚ and we’ve banked a few points. And you bank these points at the beginning of the season so that when a slight mishap happens you are able to then go into your overdraft and still be OK.”

Apart from their squad advantage‚ three-time defending champions Sundowns also have all the experience closing out championships.

AmaZulu‚ as evidenced by the videos on social media of their recent change room post-match celebrations‚ have spirit‚ nothing to lose‚ and the enthusiasm derived from an exciting new club management and coach who is an inspirational figure.

It could be tighter than anyone could have imagined a few weeks ago.

Mokwena said Peter Shalulile completed a full training session on Wednesday‚ and might be available to meet Pirates. Gaston Sirino and Kennedy Mweene will also be assessed.

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