Hunt’s champions still in second gear

Hunt’s champions still in second gear

It is hard to get a read on exactly what has gone wrong at Bidvest Wits, in a stuttering start to their Absa Premiership title defence that has seen the Clever Boys yet to register a single win in four league matches.

It all seemed to be going swimmingly ahead of the campaign, with a host of new players unveiled amid much fanfare, the squad apparently strengthened by additions like Steven Pienaar, Daylon Claasen, Slavko Damjanovic and Kobamelo Kodisang.

Yet almost from the first game of the new season, an MTN8 quarterfinal that Wits scrambled through against Golden Arrows on penalties, there has been an unsure edge about Gavin Hunt’s side, a fragility that last season simply was not there. The defence has clearly been an issue, with a clean sheet yet to be found in the league or the MTN8.

It is hard to remember a softer goal conceded in the whole of last season, for example, than the one Wits let in against Cape Town City in the first leg of the MTN8 semifinal, a sleeping back four allowing Ayanda Patosi to steal in from a loopy long throw.

It all points to a loss of focus after the success of last season, a point that goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs alluded to in his impassioned speech after the second leg loss to City that saw them dumped out of the MTN8.

The quality is there, but as yet, the will to win is apparently not. Pienaar and Claasen have also both failed to make an impact thus far – the former still does not look fully match fit, while Claasen still looks one of those players with talent but without a concrete confidence in what to do with it.

Wits have also lost their discipline at times this season, from Damjanovic’s high boot in that first game against Arrows to Nazeer Allie’s red card on the weekend at Kaizer Chiefs.

There were five more yellow cards shared among the Wits players at FNB Stadium. And while Amr Gamal, one new signing who is looking the part, did fire a late equaliser at that game, he might also have been sent off for a subsequent gesture right in front of the Chiefs fans.

There is plenty of time for Wits to turn this around, of course, and they have the quality to do so.

There is no reason to panic, and no reason why they cannot mount a challenge for the title. But they do need to get that first win as soon as possible, one feels, or the campaign could equally go the way, to use an English analogy, of a Chelsea 2015/16, or Leicester City 2016/17.

It is certainly fascinating and entirely unexpected, right now, to see a top three in the Premiership of Golden Arrows, Maritzburg United and Baroka FC.

Even Orlando Pirates, in fourth, are a bit of a shock, given how dreadful they were last season. There should be a fascinating game this evening, with Benni McCarthy returning to face the Buccaneers as head coach of Cape Town City.

McCarthy was there, of course, the last time Pirates won the title, a key member of the team that won their second consecutive treble in the 2011/12 season.

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