Saturday sees the final round of matches in the 2017-18 Premier Soccer League (PSL) and the conclusion to what the winning coach‚ Mamelodi Sundowns’ Pitso Mosimane‚ has termed the "awkward season".
At the beginning of the 2017-18 season‚ while one might have picked Sundowns to lift the trophy‚ one certainly would not have had 2016-17 champions Bidvest Wits in 10th place and needing a win against Platinum Stars in Rustenburg to stand a chance of a top eight place.
Nobody could have had third-last SuperSport United wanting a win against Baroka FC at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville to be sure of staying clear of the promotion-relegation playoff place.
"Each league [season] has its own story. This one I call the ‘awkward season’‚" said Mosimane‚ who has no such concerns‚ having wrapped up his third PSL title with Sundowns after a 3-1 home win against Ajax Cape Town 13 days ago.
"It was not a difficult season, it was just awkward. We never knew what was coming‚ and who was winning and who was not winning.
"It was a funny one‚ where you see a big team like SuperSport United being where it is. Where Bidvest Wits were second from the bottom for about three or four months. Where you had Baroka top of the log in November‚ Maritzburg were first or second at one stage‚ Free State Stars were second or first.
"And you guys [the media] were debating‚ some saying it was a difficult season‚ some saying it was easy because the big guns were not coming to the party. But I think even the so-called small clubs were up to it."
Second-last-placed Ajax’s struggles in 2017-18 have been less unexpected.
They flirted with relegation in 2016-17‚ and a too-young squad‚ under an untried coach in Stanley Menzo.
Muhsin Ertugral’s arrival in the second half of the season saw some improvement‚ possibly saving the Urban Warriors from outright relegation‚ which has gone to the new consortium-owned Platinum Stars (21 points). But even there‚ the final round of matches remains plagued by the uncertainty of a maximum 10 points that can be deducted from Ajax (31 points) if the Tendai Ndoro arbitration case goes against the Cape side.
So even if they beat Kaizer Chiefs‚ Ajax’s ultimate guarantee of safety remains in the hands of a legal outcome.
Baroka (34 points); Polokwane City (33)‚ who meet Chippa United at Old Peter Mokaba Stadium; and SuperSport (33) all remain in danger of the play-off position.
Sundowns will be presented their trophy‚ win or lose against Bloemfontein Celtic.
Downs held off a strong challenge from guaranteed runners-up Orlando Pirates in the second half of the season‚ with a strong April — winning four and drawing one of five matches — preserving the Brazilians’ lead.
Downs went an unassailable seven points clear beating Ajax on the same day that Pirates lost 1-0 to Cape Town City.
"I don’t know why anyone was doubting because the league was never‚ ever at risk.
"Because we had been there for so many months‚" Mosimane said. "The only thing that contributed to those questions is that at one stage we had an eight-point lead and then it has never been lower than four," he said.
The battle for third place sees Chiefs (45 points) needing a win to guarantee it‚ or fourth-placed Maritzburg United (43 points‚ but with a far superior goal difference of +13 to +4) to lose at Harry Gwala Stadium against Lamontville Golden Arrows.