Pitso ‘proud of how the players fought to the end’ in Abha relegation

Marc Strydom Digital Sports Editor
Abha Club coach Pitso Mosimane. File photo
Abha Club coach Pitso Mosimane. File photo
Image: Abha Club/X

Pitso Mosimane says Abha Club's coaching staff and players will emerge stronger from their ordeal of relegation from the Saudi Pro League (SPL) where, despite a fight until the end, the team lost their last match on Monday night to drop to the second tier.

In a turbulent end to the season where Mosimane steered Abha out of the drop zone three times in the past four months but saw them fall back into the bottom three as many times, Abha lost 2-1 away to last placed Al-Hazm to seal their fate.

This after a 2-1 home win against Al-Khaleej on Thursday left Abha's destiny in their own hands as it took them to 32 points in 15th place, a point above Al-Akhdoud in the relegation zone in 16th.

Monday's defeat and Akhdoud's 2-0 win away against second last placed Al-Tai, condemned Abha to Saudi Arabia's second tier Yelo League.   

“It is incredibly disappointing to come so close and fall short,” Mosimane said in a statement put out by the agency that represents him, MT Sports.

“I am proud of how the players responded to the challenge and fought until the end. Their commitment and heart have been extraordinary and though we did not achieve our goal we can hold our heads high for the effort and progress made.

“Thank you to the Abha Club board, management and fans — they have been pillars of strength throughout this challenging season.

“The learnings from this experience will make us better coaches and players.”

The MT Sports statement did not make clear what Mosimane's future at Abha entails, with the club expected to review their campaign before making decisions.

MT Sports MD Moira Tlhagale praised the coach and his South African technical staff for their bravery taking on such a daunting challenge when they joined a club entrenched in the SPL relegation zone in January.

“We are proud of coach Mosimane and his technical team for their unwavering dedication and tremendous effort this season,” Tlhagale said.

“They were brave enough to take on a challenge that most would have steered clear of. Only missing out on survival by two points, the progress and spirit displayed by the team under coach Mosimane’s leadership has been inspiring.”

Former Mamelodi Sundowns and Al Ahly (Egypt) coach Mosimane arrived at Abha on January 11 with the club in 17th place on 14 points.

He had some initial success, accumulating eight points from his first six league games — two wins, two draws and two defeats. Abha suffered a confidence smashing 8-0 home defeat to second placed Al-Nassr inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick on April 2.

After that demoralising result, Abha’s end to the campaign was a rollercoaster ride of positive results at home and often heavy defeats away. Mosimane seemed to battle with an almost non-existent defence in his away games.

Abha bounced back with a 2-1 home win against Al-Fateh but then suffered 5-0 and 4-0 defeats away to Al-Shabab and Akhdoud, before finding their feet again at home with a win against Al-Ittihad (3-1) and 1-1 draw against Damak.

Then Abha got thrashed 5-1 away against Al Ahly before bouncing back with their home win against Al-Khaleej in their second last game.

That result left Abha a point clear of the relegation zone in 15th place in the 18-team SPL, where the bottom three sides are relegated, and the coach would have been hopeful his team could shake their poor form on the road against bottom placed Al-Hazm.

It was not to be as Ahmed Abdu’s 47th-minute opener was cancelled out by goals by Muhammed Badamosi (58th) and Mohammed Al Thani (80th) at Ar-Rass Stadium.

Abha’s points accumulation improved under Mosimane. Their 14 points before his arrival came from 19 games and after the South African took over they notched 18 in 15 games.

Al-Akhdoud ended on 33 points, Abha on 32, Al-Tai on 31 and Al-Hazm on 24.

Champions Al-Hilal ended with a 2-1 away win against Al-Wehda to finish on 96 points. Ronaldo's Al-Nassr won 4-2 at home against Al-Ittihad to end in second place on 82 points, 17 above third placed Al-Ahli (65).

Reuters reports Ronaldo capped his first full SPL season breaking the record for most goals in a campaign. The 39-year-old Portuguese's brace in Al-Nassr's win over Al-Ittihad brought his league tally to 35 goals.

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