While not quite as dominant as our preseason, the first part of our season has gone about as well as I could have possibly hoped. Chippa United came out of the gates completely on fire and shot to the top immediately. I’m not even sure that “on fire” is a strong enough phrase. Over the offseason, I had managed to pull together a squad that went the first ten matches of the season unbeaten and only once gave up more than one goal. Only twice did we drop points, and even then only in goalless draws. Those were points that we had given up on our own; both matches featured plenty of wasted chances from our forwards.
Chippa United won all of their first ten games. Even though we were only four points behind, with most of the season still to play, I could already tell we were going to need to keep this form up all season. They might not stumble, but we had to be there to pounce if they did. We followed the first match that we gave up multiple goals with our first loss of the season. I still boil like cabbage water thinking about that loss. In front of our comically under-filled home ground, we managed to only register a single shot on target. It was a manager’s worst nightmare. You reach a small measure of success; just enough for people to start noticing. The stage is set, the eyes are finally on you, and your players go out and make a right cock up of it. I was angry. No, I had reached a new level of anger never before seen in this dimension. Thankfully I have a bad habit of slipping back into my native tongue when enraged, otherwise I’m sure I’d be out of a job.
Clearly my message transcended the language barrier, as we bounced right back with a win in our cross-stadium derby with Santos. Joy filled the hearts of my players at the sight of our three fans rubbing the win in the faces of the three Santos fans. So much joy, in fact, that we dropped points against then bottom of the league Spurs. This post match team talk, although a minor spectacle compared to the loss, drove the players to a decisive three-nil victory over the hot-on-our-heels Go-Rankuwa United. Having only been one point behind us going into the match, and being thoroughly schooled in the first half, our humble opponents showed their respect with a lovely gift. By hacking down our star striker Jonas Nangombe and leaving him in the physio’s care for four to six weeks.
That news couldn’t have come at a better time. After a 14 day layoff, our next match was the first meeting with Chippa United.They had finally started dropping a few points thanks to an injury to their greater than goal-a-game striker, although their loss column was still empty. All three of our fans brought friends that day, and while I can only assume they were screaming so loud it didn’t even register on our human ears I gathered the players. The stakes were simple. If we wanted to have even the slightest shot at winning the title and avoiding a promotion playoff, we had to win this match. We were only three points below them in the table. A win would pull us even, albeit still in second thanks to Chippa’s (then) otherworldly goal differential. If we could also win the return fixture in the new year, we’d have the six point sweep on them and only our own mistakes could cost us the title.
Step one was in the bag thanks to a rare cameo from last season’s Golden Boot winner Ashwin Roelf. The following match was the return fixture from our season opener, and we decided we’d liked the first time so much we’d have the same thing again. With the holidays approaching, the players must have already been thinking of their plans and we dropped points consecutively for the first time all season. The last match before the break was the start of the Cup, and what better way to celebrate the occasion (and the holidays!) than with an embarrassing loss? That put me in the giving mood, so much so that I scheduled our now routine “two week break” friendly three days before vacation was supposed to end.
Despite my ill cheer, I got a holiday present of my own as well. Jonas Nangombe had recovered from his assassination attempt and was raring to resume the chase for our second Golden Boot in a row. He hit the ground already at full sprint, knocking in a late game killing goal in his first match back. Which happened to occur on the same day as another Chippa United draw, and amazingly we head into the new year two points clear at the top. That reverse fixture might be even more important than I had first thought.
We’ve hit the transfer window. I’m really not looking to disrupt this team if I can avoid it, as injuries have done that enough already. I would absolutely love some outgoing activity and I’m hoping we can ship out a few players as we are currently at the limit on wages with no spending money. Between the strange squad balance when I arrived and the lack of sales over the summer, some positions still have quite a few senior players. I’m looking at you, five senior strikers.
I’d like to close with an apology for the Milano cookie joke that I closed with last time. It was terrible and I should never have allowed it to escape.