by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG – FROM flirting with relegation to now fighting for a place in the top eight and eager to defend the Nedbank Cup, Marumo Gallants’ transformation since the appointment of coach Dan Malesela has been remarkable.
Gallants are flying high in the DStv Premiership and are the only side to win all its league matches in 2022.
The three successive victories, against Baroka, Chippa United and Stellenbosch, have taken them to within a point of the top eight.
Malesela’s team transferred their impressive run in the league to the knockout tourneys by sending Orlando Pirates packing out of the Nedbank Cup at the Peter Mokaba Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Qualifying for the Last 8 on penalties at the expense of the fading giants has enhanced Gallants’ prospects of retaining the country’s most lucrative cup competition.
Captain Lehlohonolo Nonyane believes the appointment of ‘Dance’ last November was a masterstroke by management.
He replaced the Frechman Sebastien Migne, whose tenure sparked turmoil within the technical team.
In the 14 domestic league and cup matches under Malesela, Bahlabane Ba Ntwa have won nine times and lost only twice. Three have been drawn.
“I think the arrival of the new coach was the turning point,” Nonyane said in an interview with CAJ News Africa.
“He (Malesela) brought stability and is a fatherly figure to us,” he said of the charismatic coach.
“He is straight talker. His methods suit the players that are here, hence there is sudden change in results.”
The arrival of Malesela, a tactician lauded for his offensive brand of football, has brought the best out of Ndabayithethwa Ndlondlo, the Limpopo side’s talisman.
The coveted diminutive forward has netted seven times in the last five encounters, his goals propelling Gallants to within shouting distance of the lucrative top eight.
“We stand a very good chance of getting into the top eight since we are closer to it than the bottom,” Nonyane said.
He emphasised, “So right now our focus is to get closer to teams above us.”
Draw specialists, AmaZulu, currently occupy eighth spot and with 29 points, are a point ahead of Gallants.
Benni McCarthy’s AmaZulu have played 23 games, two more than Malesela’s in-form side.
Tenth-placed Gallants are back in league action against relegation-haunted Chippa at the Peter Mokaba next Wednesday.
Nonyane meanwhile believes playing in the CAF Confederations Cup has also boosted the team’s mentality in the domestic schedule.
Gallants had a commendable run in their debut continental campaign.
They eliminated Futuro Kings and AS Vita of Equitorial Guinea and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) respectively in the preliminary and playoff rounds.
They later succumbed in the final playoff 1-0 over two legs to the Congolese powerhouse, TP Mazambe.
“Truly speaking it was a great, fruitful experience to play in Africa,” Nonyane said.
“It was my second time after (participating with Bidvest) Wits. We (Gallants) enjoyed every bit and hopefully we can win the Nedbank Cup again and better our chances of going back there.”
Malesela won the tournament with the then first division side, TS Galaxy, in 2018/19.
Gallants’ current form redeems his pride that was dented after his dismissals by Galaxy and Chippa in 2020/21.
– CAJ News