Sunday, February 28, 2021

‘I want us to play with flair’- Matlhaku

Peleng giants, Extension Gunners’ display during the Kabelano Charity Cup a fortnight ago brought back memories of the old Gunners’ side which used to mesmerize the opposition in the 1990s, especially when playing in front of hordes of their supporters at the Old Lobatse Stadium.

Who can forget the likes of Peter Mabile, Itumeleng Duiker, Jojo Mogotsi, Francis Chisenga, Solomon Moipolai and Scara Kebalepile just to name a few who used to attract thousands of followers to the Lobatse Stadium to cheer on their stars?

But that flair disappeared for over a decade – something which led to some supporters staying away from the games.

This led to Gunners losing revenue due to lower attendances.

Playing in front of their fans at the new Lobatse Sports Stadium just a few kilometers across on the eastern side of the venue where they used to bury opponents in the 1990s, Gunners brought the sleepy town to life on August 17.

It was their brave show which won them the hearts of many people, despite fielding a side which did not have any big names.

The semi-final win against favourites Township Rollers brought some glimpses of the Old Gunners’ side. It was their passing of the ball around with confidence and flair which made some to believe that their side is getting there.

Surprisingly, Gunners were not intimidated by their high-spending opponents and they scored two beautiful goals which booked them a place in the final against Mochudi Centre Chiefs.

It was in the final where Gunners were found wanting, especially in the second half, something which was attributed to fatigue. They had little time to rest against a star-studded Chiefs’ squad which had almost four hours of rest. Despite that, the performance of Gunners in the tournament brought lots of hope to those associated with the club.

Gunners’ supporters did not disappoint on the day as they cheered their favourite side throughout the two games. It was the ululating, whistling and singing which made their players put up such a solid performances.

While in the 1990s Gunners were operating with a blank cheque, it is a different scenario these days as they are struggling to attract investors. This means that they are unable to attract quality players to the Lobatse-based side. Still the presence of head coach Odirile ‘China’ Matlhaku has made many to believe in the group of ‘no-name’ players at the club.

As the season kicks off in a fortnight, all eyes will be on Gunners to see if their pre-season tournament display was a fluke. Interestingly, Gunners kick off their campaign against Rollers at the refurbished National Stadium in Gaborone on September 13. It is a game to be played under floodlights; with kick off set for 7pm.

Rollers are expected to come out with all guns blazing for revenge. At the same time, it will be interesting to see if Gunners will show the same resilience like they did when they met during Kabelano.

“It is not going to be easy playing Rollers this time around because they will surely be coming for revenge. It is going to be a different ball game and the strategies will be different on the night,” said coach Matlhaku.

As the season kicks off, Matlhaku has hinted that their plan is do better than last season where they finished in position seven. He said that though they have not been able to attract big name players to Lobatse, their plan is to rely on the youthful side they have assembled.

“I have so much confidence in my players. I have no doubt that with time we’ll develop into a competitive side. When I was brought here, I was tasked with building a side which will be able to attract the supporters to the stadiums and that is what I am doing. I want my players to out there to enjoy themselves. I want us to play with flair but the most important thing will be to get positive results,” Matlhaku said.

The soft-spoken gaffer noted that their main downfall last season was scoring no goals but they have been working on that during pre-season.

Gunners will once again rely on the scoring prowess of striker Mponang Mponang this season while skipper Monageng Thaele and veteran midfielder Tshepo Molefe will be expected to operate in the middle of the park.

“We can only do well if our supporters can rally behind the team like they did during Kabelano. They made the players enjoy themselves and that’s what these boys need. They must learn to rally behind the team during the good and bad times,” said Matlhaku.

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