Highlanders’ title challenge came almost as an unexpected development for coach, Erol Akbay, who expected his team to finish number five or six during the early days of the 2016 edition of the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League. BY FORTUNE MBELE
With three matches to go, Bosso are riding on a strong push, which has seen them pick up 21 points from their last seven matches, a run that has taken them to second position on the log table, behind Caps United, who enjoy a point’s advantage.
Akbay admitted that he didn’t think his side had the right quality to challenge for league honours, but improvements by individual players, particularly in the second half of the season, have aided the Bulawayo giants’ title charge.
With Highlanders losing some of their best players, Knox Mutizwa to Wits and Bruce Kangwa to Tanzanian top-flight side Azam FC, it didn’t look like Bosso would sustain a title push, but Akbay found remedies.
Soon after Kangwa left in July, Highlanders went on a six-match winless run, but they recovered to realign their campaign.
Akbay yesterday told NewsDaySport that he was pleased with his charges.
“When I came in February I thought we had exceptional players, but after assessing the team in a few games, I thought maybe we would end the season in position five or six, but we started off well,” he said.
“It was not easy losing my top goal scorer (Kangwa) and having to change my style of play to get the right formula. But that is the reality of football; you have to expect your best players to go.”
Highlanders’ powerful run in the last couple of months has set them as strong contenders for the league title, and if achieved, it would be an amazing feat considering that, at some point, they trailed the then log leaders FC Platinum by 10 points and Caps United, who were second, by five.
The Dutch coach owes that run to the improvement of some of his key players in the second half of the season.
“We have players, who have made tremendous improvement in the second half, who include Peter Muduhwa, Rahman Kutsanzira, Simon Munawa and the youngsters Prince Dube, Brian Banda and Adrian Silla. They are eager to learn and I can give them more. I never expected that we could match this competition, but here we are. We are in the race for the title and I believe we have a strong chance of winning it.”
Akbay saw his side take advantage of Caps United and FC Platinum dropping points at the weekend. Highlanders now have 53 points, one behind Caps and one more than FC Platinum.
“It’s good that Caps United and FC Platinum dropped points at the weekend. It worked well for us. If FC Platinum win the next game and we lose, they are two points above us and they could go back to the top. Any of the three teams can win it and, like I have said before, there is no room for mistakes now. We have to do it on our own.”
Highlanders host relegation-fighting Tsholotsho before travelling to Mandava for a top-of-the-table duel against FC Platinum and finish off the season with Hwange at home.
Caps United play Harare City away before they host Ngezi Platinum and will round off the season with an away trip to Chapungu.