CT ALL STARS v MTHATHA BUCKS
The two Cape clubs will get the second half of the season underway on Friday with both looking to improve on their current log positions. All Stars are 9th, but are one of only three sides to have led the NFD this season. Mthatha Bucks are in much worse strife and lie second from bottom at the halfway point of the season. For a side that has big objectives and were in third place on the log 3 times this season, the drop into the relegation zone must be something of a shock. New coach, Duncan Lechesa, has a lot on his plate to turn the fortunes of Bucks around. The two teams met in Round 8 with Bucks winning 2 – 1. In fact that win was the last time that the Mthatha side tasted success as they promptly lost 6 and drew 1 of their next 7 matches to drop from 5th to 15th on the log. All Stars have on won once in their last 6 outings and have been drifting in midtable for quite a while.
UTHONGATHI FC v RICHARDS BAY
A KZN derby to start proceedings on Saturday sees two sides in the bottom half of the table wanting a positive start to 2018. The Christmas break might have come at the wrong time for Richards Bay who posted two wins in a row before the holidays. They first won away in Witbank in the Nedbank Cup and then beat Leopards at home in the league. The NFD result was significant in that the win saw Richards Bay not only climb out of the relegation zone for the first time in 10 weeks, but was a win for a former Leopards coach over the current one. Well no longer current I suppose as Leopards coach Minnaert has also been shown the door. Uthongathi might not be setting the NFD alight, but with the second highest number of draws, they have been in midtable almost all season long. The teams played to a 1 – 1 draw in Richards Bay in Round 8.
ROYAL EAGLES v MBOMBELA UNITED FC
The return of coach Papic has seen a return to positive results for Royal Eagles as the Maritzburg based side hammered Tuks in the Nedbank Cup and then beat bottom side Ubuntu just before the break, scoring 7 goals in those two outings. Visiting Mbombela dropped to their lowest position in 10 weeks after successive goalless draws to end 2017. But if your lowest position is 5th, then I suppose it’s not that bad. While they boast a good away record, the Mpumalanga based side haven’t won on the road since mid October. A win on Saturday would see Mbombela doing the double over their KZN opponent, having beaten Eagles 2 - 1 in Round 8 at home.
STELLENBOSCH FC v TSHAKHUMA TSHA MADZIHANDILA
Two sides that will be hoping for better consistency in the 2nd half of the season meet on Saturday in the Cape. After leading the NFD standings for 6 weeks, Stellenbosch FC find themselves in 6th spot, 8 points behind logleaders Highlands and 3 points outside a place in the Promotional Playoffs. The Cape side will be looking for revenge against TTM FC who not only beat them earlier in the season, but it was the loss that began the slide from the summit of the log for the Stellenbosch side. After losing their first two matches of the season, TTM FC have recovered somewhat to a midtable position. The Limpopo side however are one of three sides who have conceded the most goals this season so far – 23. The others being Mthatha Bucks and Witbank Spurs. TTM FC also have the 2nd worst goal difference.
BLACK LEOPARDS v UNIVERSITY of PRETORIA
Much was expected from both Leopards and Tuks at the beginning of the season and while Tuks have delivered so far, the same cannot be said for Leopards. Lidoda Duvha start 2018 with their 3rd coach on debut as Joel Masutha tries to get the Limpopo side into contention for at least the Promotional Playoffs. A tough task – well yes. Leopards are 10th on the log, 7 points clear of the relegation zone. Tuks on the Other hand are 3rd on the log and still in contention for automatic promotion. One of the drawbacks for Tuks is that they have played 10 home matches in the first half of the season, which means 10 away fixtures on the road in the 2nd half of the program. Leopards beat Tuks 1 – 0 in Pretoria in Round 8
REAL KINGS v JOMO COSMOS
Cosmos face a tough start to 2018 meeting a Real Kings who ended 2017 with a bang. Victories over Tuks and TTM FC produced 8 goals – 5 for the NFD’s leading scorer Phewa and 3 for Bhengu who scored 22 goals in the 2014/15 season. Cosmos have sold two influential players in Macuphu and Mntambo to Chippa and have another stalwart, newly appointed captain Lingwati, suspended for this match. Although Cosmos have won only once on the road this season, they are unbeaten in their last 8 NFD encounters. Kings are an in form side too having lost just once in their last 7 outings. Cosmos beat Kings 2 – 1 in Vosloorus earlier this season. A win for Cosmos will put them top of the table overnight.
SUPER EAGLES v HIGHLANDS PARK
Only playing on Sunday, logleaders Highlands Park will play a watching role to see if the chasing pack close the gap or even (in the case of Cosmos), go above them on the log. The Lions of the North have put an unbeaten run of 10 matches together (11 if you include the Nedbank Cup) and are looking strong. Having beaten Eagles 3 – 0 in Tembisa in Round 8, there will be a quiet confidence to do the season double over the NFD rookies. Super Eagles have won 4 out of 8 home matches in the NFD and hammered Leopards 3 – 0 in the Nedbank Cup. The Free State side are 4 points clear of the relegation zone.
UBUNTU CT FC v WITBANK SPURS
It has been a very rough season so far for newly named Ubuntu CT FC. The Cape side have been in the relegation zone for the past 11 weeks, 9 of which have been at the bottom of the log. No home wins and only 1 win all season is not a good omen for survival in the pro ranks. Not all doom and gloom though as Ubuntu are only 4 points away from escaping the drop zone. Visiting Spurs have occupied a midtable slot for most of the season so far, courtesy of playing the most draws in the NFD as is shown by their 6 draws in 8 away matches. The Witbank side are unbeaten in their last 8 outings and beat Ubuntu 1 – 0 at home earlier in the season.