Unlike in the previous two seasons Bantu this time around have nothing to boast about as they ended the past season without any silverware to their name.
But that did not discourage Bantu, who won the league title back-to-back in 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons, from holding the end of the year awards ceremony. The awards were held as usual in Mafeteng last Saturday.
The team’s head coach James Madidilane attributes their failure to retain the title to their dropping points at the crunch time and numerous unnecessary draws. This is notwithstanding that A-Mats’o-Matebele only lost twice this past season while league winners Matlama were beaten in four league matches.
But Bantu drew six times as opposed to Matlama’s two draws. Madidilane says this was because his team started the 2018/19 season on the back foot, far from matching their 2016/17 and 2017/18 performance which saw them winning the league title back-to-back. What could be the other major reason behind their failure to retain the title, although Madidilane declined to admit it, is the notable absence of his two key players, Thabo Selisa and Itumeleng Falane.
Selisa was in the two previous seasons the team’s number one goalkeeper with Falane as one of the team’s tough-to-beat defenders. Bantu were forced to do without the two players for the whole season due to signing blunders. Besides, the team’s former assistant coach Bob Mafoso also left to join Kick4Life at the beginning of the just-ended season.
Madidilane again does not think Mafoso’s departure had any impact on the team’s failure to retain the league title. Instead, he blames it on his team’s inconsistency towards the end of the season, where they lost to LMPS and drew with both Swallows and Linare.
“To be honest, after we lost against LMPS that’s when I realised that it would be tough for us to defend our league title,” Madidilane says.
He further says: “The Linare game (draw) made matters even worse because at the time we were chasing Matlama with points and with an equal number of games.
“So, in a nutshell, we failed when we had advantage of games at hand, and those are the games which contributed to us not being the champions.”
It might also be due to the fatigue of playing in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup where Bantu managed to proceed beyond the preliminary stage only to be knocked out in the first and second round of the two competitions respectively.
But Madidilane maintains this was still not the reason why they did not do well in the league.
“We were not fatigued at all, instead we gained momentum and the performance of some of the players who started the season at the back foot was improved through those international campaigns.
“But like I said, if we had maintained the same form throughout the season, we could have easily defended our league title and with more points than the previous seasons. “But it was unfortunate that we lost against LMPS and drew against both Swallows and Linare.”
On the absence of Selisa and Falene
“No, I don’t want to put their absence as one of the factors which contributed to us not defending our league title because we had always been aware of it and we tried to make plans even though we struggled to get an ideal right full-back, hence we used Lesaoana (Thabo) and who did well for the team.
“So, I wouldn’t say that was particularly the reason because for instance, we had a chance after we finished the CAF (CAF Confederation Cup) but unfortunately football being what it is, we somehow dropped the points at a crucial time and suffered the way we did.”
On Mafoso’s departure
“No, the departure of Coach Bob was not the reason for our failure because he left at the right time.
“It was on all of us, we didn’t start well to be quite honest. Hence why we finished second and not on top like we had anticipated.
Madidilane further says: “Maybe if we started well and then maintained the good start, things would have turned out differently.
He also indicates: “Matlama were consistent throughout because they ensured that they won their most crucial games and that is the one thing we should give them credit for.”
However, this does not necessarily mean that Matlama were in any way streets ahead of Bantu and the rest of the league. Tse-Putsoa won the league title with 62 points, a difference of just two points ahead of Bantu.
Matlama again scored 53 goals and conceded 13, while Bantu scored 52 and let in 11 – a difference of just one goal behind the league champions and two conceding goal record better than Matlama.
The numbers, from Bantu’s point of view, show that they have the potential to be just as good, if not better.
A further testimony to this is the fact that Bantu beat both Matlama and Lioli towards the end of the season, which is an indication that Bantu still had an incredible appetite for hard work.
But like Madidilane says, it is not a secret that Matlama dominated a greater part of the season, with their amazingly high success rate in penetrating their opponents’ final third as well as their dominant numbers in successfully raiding into the box.
Their efficiency at making good use of the forward ball was astonishing, as well as their successful penalty area penetrations, which are an indication that key performers in Thabile Secker’ system were functioning at the highest level of their efficiency.
The decisive factors here are clearly the football revolution which Secker brought to Matlama and which got the best out of his key performers.
Some of the outstanding performers included Bushi Moletsane and Kefuoe Mahula, who were on fire in their area of play, dominating the midfield area with short decisive passing, flair and skillful play which helped create chances for the players around them.