Township Rollers supporters may have felt a sense of d├®j├á vu all over again as they saw their team slump to a 2 ÔÇô 1 defeat at the hands of minnows BR Highlanders this past Saturday. In a scene reminiscent of last season, an unbeaten Rollers side relinquished their log leadership to fellow title chasers Orapa United just as the league is going towards its business end. Last season, Rollers led the league log for a very long period but tailed off when then coach Madinda Ndlovu went back home for a coaching course. Even when the gaffer arrived, the team could not recover as rivals Mochudi Centre Chiefs went on to clinch the league championship.
This time around, Rollers’ decline started when gaffer Mark Harrison was given a two match suspension. Ever since then, Popa has lost its swagger, leading many to question whether the team has recovered from the psychological effects of losing the league they led last season. Asked whether the team had recovered from last season’s meltdown, Harrison said they are trying to keep the players psychologically prepared for all games. “We try to keep ourselves in a zone where we are doing the right things. We don’t even talk about it (what happened last season). It is like people keep bringing it up in the media and everywhere else but I try to just relax and not think about it,” the Rollers gaffer said. Coming against BR Highlanders just hours after title rivals Orapa United had taken the log leadership, Rollers, as Harrison explained, never turned up and were duly punished. Despite a blistering start that saw Rollers force Highlanders keeper Tumiso Masahakola to save from Sekhana Koko, get two corner kicks and have Jerome Ramatlhakwana’s effort ruled offside within the first ten minutes, it was all as good as it got for Rollers. Thereafter, Rollers started to fade off as Highlanders stifled their midfield, made of Maano Ditshupo and Lawrence Majawa. The log leaders were then pegged back on the 23rd minute when Tilly Setlhako met Leteng Legopelo’s set piece to head past Kabelo Dambe and give his team a lead. Popa however restored parity just seven minutes before recess when Joe Mogorosi headed Tshepo Motlhabankwe’s corner kick to ensure both teams went to recess on equal footing. While chances were scarce and far in between in the second half, neither side managed to make any count. Things however took an interesting twist in the 80th minute when the Rollers defence were caught napping and Moamogedi Thatogo punished them to put his side ahead. Popa could not muster any response as they lost their first league match and surrendered their log leadership to Orapa United. Commenting on his team’s win, Highlanders coach, Lebitso Ratlou said their plan was to stifle the Rollers midfield. “Our intention was to stop Rollers from laying the passes because they are dangerous in the midfield where Ditshupo and Majawa play. Then we forced them to play long balls where we know we have our strength of tall defence and we are good aerially,” the BR Highlanders gaffer explained. With Highlanders still in the relegation zone, Ratlou said he ‘has no other target but to avoid relegation.’