By Ricky Zililo
Inconsistency has been Highlanders’ Achilles heel lately, with the Bulawayo soccer giants seemingly struggling to fully exert themselves whenever they play at Barbourfields Stadium than when they’re on the road.
Highlanders suffered their second home defeat of the season on Sunday, going down 0-1 to giant killers Bulawayo Chiefs. The loss came a month after they went down 1-2 to ZPC Kariba.
Since the start of the season, Bosso, who are on a rebuilding mission, have dropped 12 points at home, depriving themselves of an opportunity to spring a shocker and make noise in the championship race.
While Highlanders coach Madinda Ndlovu, the club’s executive and the supporters are happy with the progress the new look Bosso is making with a bulk of average players, there is need for an introspection to tackle the “Barbourfields curse”, which has seen them failing to register a home win in four games.
They lost at home to ZPC Kariba on May 6, drew 0-0 with Caps United on May 20, shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw against Chapungu on May 27 and then lost to Chiefs.
Although they beat Bulawayo City 1-0 on May 27 at Barbourfields, they were away to the local authority side.
Highlanders play with high verve, exhibiting some beautiful football on the road more than they do at home.
They have only lost once on the road, 0-1 to Ngezi Platinum Stars, and drawn twice against Chicken Inn and Yadah. So impressive has their away form been that travelling fans and even the technical team wish they can replicate the same away form at home.
Maybe the players feel little pressure and freely express themselves away from Barbourfields.
However, on Sunday, they lost to a technically and tactically sound Chiefs that plugged Highlanders’ passage, pressing them high and at the same time sitting back to maintain their defensive shape.
Bosso came to the party in the second half but were let down by poor finishing, a sign that Ndlovu should look for a quality striker to convert the chances they create.
Chiefs’ technical analyst and architect of Highlanders’ loss Thulani Sibanda heaved a sigh of relief after seeing his charges shock Highlanders.
“Yes, we won but I think they became more dangerous when they were a man down. To be honest they were tactically sound and that’s why they were at liberty to come at us and still attack while they were a man down. We also had to be tactically and technically upright to thwart their moves as our plan was to catch them on counter attacks,” Sibanda said.
Having guided Chiefs to the Premiership, Sibanda continues to prove his worth in the “shadows” having also crafted the fall of leaders FC Platinum, who they beat 2-0, and Ngezi (1-0).
On paper, Sibanda is not the Chiefs’ coach, as he is not a holder of the required Caf A coaching badge. He is registered as the fitness and technical analyst for the team, but takes the side through its paces throughout the week when the “head coach” Garthly Chipuka will be at work in Harare.
Chiefs studied Highlanders’ play very well, pressing them high as well as in the midfield, especially in the first half, as they forced them to make mistakes.
It was in the second half that Bosso came out of their shell through the long ball.
Attacking through the long ball was never Highlanders’ game plan, but they had to change after goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda was sent off in the first half.
The second half performance impressed coach Ndlovu.
“I’m happy to lose this game the way it happened because a lot of positives came from my boys. The character that they showed when they were playing with one man down was something that one would turn around and say if we were equal what could have happened?
“I think we should look at the outright free play, how we played there after losing a man, I think we dominated the game,” said Ndlovu.
The Bosso coach has a nightmare going into the FC Platinum game in Zvishavane as he will be missing a number of vital players.
Ariel and defender Andrew Mbeba will miss the trip to FC Platinum through suspensions, with defenders Bukhosi Ncube, Honest Moyo and Tendai Ndlovu out with injuries.
“Playing a team like FC Platinum will be very difficult with almost six regular players not eligible. It’s a game that we are going to play and if we take the positives from the way we finished this game, we will try and salvage something from FC Platinum. It’s a mammoth task.
“I would’ve loved that this is the game we go for the break and try to get the boys to recuperate, but it’s a fixture that we have to go and play and that’s our job.
“We have to go out there and see how to shape these boys to put up a fight. We’ve already agreed that we’re looking at these young boys coming in to play this season.
“Nothing will be sinister to see two or three young boys in the starting line-up in the game against FC Platinum, that’s the nature of the game,” Ndlovu said.
Bosso trail log leaders FC Platinum by 12 points. The Chronicle