The TNM Super League first round wound up last weekend with plenty of talking points that offered a glimpse of what can be expected in the second phase.
There was no doubt that the blue and, sometimes, orange side of Blantyre—Be Forward Wanderers—dictated the pace of the race that has 16 teams battling for the championship, top-eight place and crucially, survival.
Wanderers went into the break with 33 points from 15 games, three points ahead of second-placed Kamuzu Barracks (KB), an improvement from last season when, at the same stage, the Nomads finished third with 28 points.
It is thanks to the work-rate of towering Nigerian striker Babatunde Adepoju who netted 13 goals in 15 games with Vincent Nyangulu, Fransesco Madinga and Francis Mkonda playing the supporting role in scoring, translating to 39 goals scored and nine let in—a huge leap from the 2018 season when the Nomads netted 16 and let in eight at this stage.
Despite such a good run, Wanderers had the worst possible start to the season, losing 3-1 to Blue Eagles, before embarking on a remarkable winning streak, only to finish the first round on some sort of an anti-climax after falling 3-2 to Moyale Barracks.
“They underrated us just because we lost to Ntopwa the previous day, but this was a totally different game,” Moyale Coach Collins Nkuna, who replaced Charles Kamanga a few weeks ago, told the press.
“I threw into action more attacking players. I told the guys to concentrate on their tasks. Strikers were to just mind scoring and we did it.”
The second defeat of the season gave Wanderers Coach Bob Mpinganjira food for thought especially in goalkeeping as William Thole, having made the first jersey his own following Nenani Juwaya’s injury, showed some weaknesses.
Not that the defence and the whole team was, in this particular game, better but such is life at big teams such as Wanderers they find a scapegoat for every defeat. Some feel Thole could have done better in stopping two-goal hero Deus Nkutu from scoring.
“That is football for you—if you do not make use of your chances you get punished,” Mpinganjira said after Nkutu and Gastin Simkonda had twice come from behind to wipe out Babatunde and Madinga’s goals.
Wanderers’ stuttering first-round finish must have ignited hope for KB who lost the least once, ironically only to Wanderers, and more importantly holders Bullets (29 points) and Silver (28 points) who finished on third and fourth places, respectively.
Bullets Coach Kallisto Pasuwa knows that they can catch up with Wanderers but the Zimbabwean would be disappointed that his charges failed to match the 35 points they garnered at this stage last season when they topped the first round as Silver claimed second place with 33 points.
The excuse for Bullets is that they are in transition having injected into the team new blood such as Chimwemwe Idana, Peter Banda, Hassan Kajoke and Precious Sambani but so high are standards at the People’s Team they expect nothing short of silverware at the end of every season.
Balancing rebuilding and winning is the only way that can guarantee Pasuwa a longer stay in the red side of town which steps into the second phase with a slight advantage of having to play more games at home.
Bullets finished the first round with a resounding 3-1 beating of Dwangwa but the 13-time champions should be concerned that their scorer-in-chief, Chiukepo Msowoya, struggled to find the back of the net and that, apart from a 3-1 win over Silver Strikers, failed to defeat other title contenders Eagles, Wanderers and KB.
Not that Silver are comfortable either because despite that Khuda Muyaba (eight goals) and Michael Tetteh (six goals) were fluent in speaking the scoring vocabulary, their failure to step up to the plate when facing top opponents raised questions about their quality.
There were even more questions on fielding and tactics with supporters demanding improved displays amid reports of an overhaul in the playing and coaching personnel which has lost Lovemore Fazili to the senior Malawi national football team.
In Area 30, Eagles have improved greatly this season and were the only team that developed the expertise of beating giants Bullets, Wanderers and Silver.
However, consistency was a setback which Coach DeKlerk Msakakuona must correct especially when up against the so-called small teams.
Down the table, Dwangwa, hit by the departure of stars such as Jack Chiona, Ben Manyozo and Charles Thom to other teams and lack of sponsorship, finished the first round with eight points and look destined for the Chipiku Central Region Football League Premier Division.
Mlatho Mponela (11 points), and Masters Security and Ntopwa (both on 13 points) are also facing the threat of relegation.
Overall, save for Masters’ failure to report for their home game against Mzuni FC due to a player boycott over unpaid dues and overall dwindling patronage, the first round was a relative success.
Going into the second round, the ball is in Wanderers’ court to build on their first round form.
Peter Kanjere is a versatile Journalist currently working for Times Group as Assistant Editor for The Daily Times.
With vast experience in the industry, he is also an accomplished Sports Analyst, whose exploits in sports reporting and analysis span beyond the length and breadth of the African continent.