By Mabvuto Kambuwe:
Arch-rivals Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers open their 2019 TNM Super League instalment when they clash in a Blantyre derby at Kamuzu Stadium this afternoon.
This is the 65th league derby between the two sworn rivals since the league was introduced in 1986.
The first Blantyre derby dates back to some 50 years ago at the then Rangeley Stadium (now Kamuzu Stadium) when the two sides were in their infancy stages.
It is a special day for the giants as bragging rights are always at stake each time they clash.
Whether one likes it or not, every time the Blantyre derby comes around, the football gods go crazy.
Statistics do not favour Wanderers heading into today’s crunch battle as they have been playing second fiddle to their archrivals in the league since 2012.
In the last seven years, Bullets have won seven league matches against the Nomads, with six ending in draws.
Last season’s two encounters between the two giants ended square after a 1-1 draw in the first round, followed by a goalless draw in the second.
The two go into the match after getting different results in their last games.
Bullets claimed maximum points last weekend after thrashing Karonga United 5-0 at the same venue whereas Wanderers settled for a goalless draw against Silver Strikers at Silver Stadium in Lilongwe.
If current form is anything to go by, the Nomads might have an advantage as Bullets are inconsistent this season having lost two matches to Blue Eagles (2-1) and Kamuzu Barracks (1-0). The Nomads have lost just once (3-1) to Eagles.
However, derbies between the two are decided by players’ individual brilliance and experience.
The two sides are separated by four points on the log table with the Nomads lying second having collected 26 points from 11 games, just one point behind leaders Kamuzu Barracks, whereas Bullets are fifth with 22 points from 12 games.
Should either side lose today’s match, it might have an impact in the title race though it is too early to conclude who would win it.
Bullets newly appointed assistant Coach, Peter Mponda, during a press conference, anticipated a tough match.
“As coaches, we have done everything to carry the day although we have a setback due to injuries to some of our key players. We have dominated fixtures against Wanderers, so we want to maintain the trend and we are confident that history will repeat itself,” Mponda said.
Bullets have injury concerns on key players such as John Lanjesi, Bashir Maunde, Mac Fallen Mgwira, Yamikani Fodya, Righteous Banda and Miracle Gabeya. But they have several players who can fill that void.
Charles Petro, Sankhani Mkandawire and Gomegzani Chirwa are likely to provide cover to either Ernest Kakhobwe or Rabson Chiyenda.
Stand-in captain Chimango Kaira will likely partner Henry Kabichi in midfield with Chiukepo Msowoya, Peter Banda and Hassan Kajoke leading the attack.
Wanderers assistant Coach, Oscar Kaunda, said they have a special plan for their bitter rivals.
“We should play our game and make sure we have the killer punch. We will approach the match with caution but pressure is on them because of their record in the derby. On our part, we have done everything to get full points,” Kaunda said.
The Nomads have a full squad minus defenders Lucky Malata and Harry Nyirenda who are injured. But the Lali Lubani Road side has several options in Peter Cholopi, Dennis Chembezi, Bongani Kaipa, Stanley Sanudi and Francis Mlimbika. Goalkeeper Nenani Juwaya is also back after suffering a knock against Silver last weekend.
In attack, the Nomads will likely keep faith in Babatunde Adepoju, Vincent Nyangulu, Isaac Kaliati and Francisco Madinga Junior with Alfred Manyozo Junior and Francis Mkonda manning the engine room.
In other matches scheduled for this afternoon, Mlatho Mponela host Masters Security whereas Chitipa United will be in action against Moyale Barracks at Karonga Stadium.
Mzuni will take on Dwangwa United at Mzuzu Stadium.