MASERU – The Econet Premier League (EPL) returns to action this weekend with among others a derby between current log-leaders Matlama and FC Likhopo at Setsoto Stadium tomorrow.
Matlama meet Likhopo after they failed to defend their Top 8 title at the same venue last weekend.
Tse-Putsoa could not even reach the final of the competition following a 5-4 shock defeat at the hands of LCS on penalty shootouts after a goalless draw in regulation time.
As that was not enough, Matlama also suffered 2-1 walloping by arch-rivals Bantu in a third-place deciding match to complete their Top 8 white-wash.
However, with Matlama eyeing to increase their chances of winning the league title, the derby against Likhopo is too crucial not to lose if Tse Putsoa are to realise their dream of clinching the coveted trophy at the end of the season.
Matlama are on pole position on the 14-team EPL log table on 47 points, behind them are LCS with 42 points and the defending champions Bantu are third-placed with 39 points.
Matlama are left with six matches before the season ends next month, while LCS and Bantu have five and seven games remaining, respectively.
If Matlama win all their remaining matches they will end the season with 65 points, while LCS will have 57 points and Bantu 60 if likewise they are going to win all their remaining games.
But in Likhopo, Matlama face one of the trickiest sides in the domestic league, apart from the fact that they are going to meet in an explosive Maseru derby.
The derby is equally crucial for Likhopo as they are also looking to cement their place in the top 8 bracket.
Halemakale Mahlaha’s charges are currently lying on position seven with 29 points and five remaining games.
“This is a crucial match for us because if we win we will be able to cement our place in the top 8 bracket, which is something that we are aiming for,” said Mahlaha in an interview with Public Eye on Wednesday.
Mahlaha also showed that it would be ideal for his charges to beat a team which leads the pack like Matlama.
“And chances are high that we could prevail over Matlama as we don’t have any pressure unlike Matlama who are desperate to win the league title.
Matlama beat Likhopo 3-0 in the first round, but Mahlaha believes that this time around the two’s meeting would be the closest contest ever.
“The fact that is it the Maseru derby is what makes it even more fascinating,” Mahlaha also said.
Matlama head coach Thabile Secker also anticipates a tough encounter when the two teams meet tomorrow.
“It is going to be a tough match because in football we learn by mistakes and the fact that we beat them in the first round does not mean it is going to be easy for us to beat them again. They had a chance to watch us play over the weekend and they obviously had enough time to study how we play,” Secker said.
He said the spirit at their camp was however quite high notwithstanding that they failed to defend their Top 8 title last weekend.
“What happened last week is in the past. It is water under the bridge as we are now focusing on our remaining league matches, one of them being the Likhopo tie.”
Secker said they are not going to underestimate their opponents, adding they will come out with guns blazing.
He said the two teams’ previous derbies were never easy with Likhopo giving Matlama tough times.
“But it is high time Matlama became a team to beat,” Secker said.
EPL weekend fixture at a glance
Saturday: FC Likhopo vs Matlama (Setsoto Stadium)
Swallows vs Linare (Ratjomose Ground).
Galaxy vs Liphakoe (Maputsoe DiFA Stadium)
Majantja vs LCS (Mohale’s Hoek)
Sunday: FC Kick4Life vs LMPS FC (LCS Ground)
Bantu vs LDF (Setsoto Stadium)
Sefothafotha vs Lioli (PTC).