Key Maritzburg United midfielder Travis Graham (pictured) has acknowledged that they are “racing the clock” to be ready for the new DStv Premiership season.
The 29-year-old workhorse says there are two main reasons for that — the opening of the league a week earlier than first mentioned by the Premier Soccer League (PSL), and a mixture of old and new players at the club needing to find cohesion under the guidance of a new head coach who is also trying to settle in, John Maduka.
Graham’s gang, who finished a disappointing 12th last season, have three weeks left for pre-season training before they launch their 2022/23 Premiership campaign with a home match against Sekhukhune United on August 6 in an 8 pm kick-off.
Their first away game of the new season will come the following Tuesday, August 9, against another team that is desperate for better days, Kaizer Chiefs, in a 7.30 pm kick-off.
“Yes, there is a bit of pressure on us to be ready for the new season,” said Graham when asked about his team’s state of preparedness.
It certainly has not helped that the fixtures have been brought forward by a week, reducing our preparation time. We, obviously, have a new coach, too, with a new philosophy, a new system, and we have to respect his decisions. Aside from that, things seem to be going okay.
The clean-cut professional, who has seven new team-mates so far, said it’s too early to tell of any drastic differences between Maduka and his predecessor, Ernst Middendorp.
Last season, we could have done a little better and it was unfortunate for Middendorp with the way things worked out. But the training sessions are the same in terms of being very focused,” he said.
“What I can say at the moment is that we will likely play a more possession-based game under the new coach. It will probably be more of an attacking game.
That also suggests that Graham and company could have done with more preparation time to fully grasp Maduka’s chosen methods.
However, Maritzburg and the other professional teams from KwaZulu-Natal will try to fine-tune their preparations for the new league in some coming friendlies and when they participate in the KZN Premier’s Cup exhibition tournament in Durban and Pietermaritzburg on July 30 and 31.
Maritzburg have been drawn to face Motsepe Foundation Championship side Uthongathi in the preliminary round at King Zwelithini Stadium on July 30, and the winners will advance to a semi-final date against Royal AM or Premiership rookies Richards Bay FC at Harry Gwala Stadium the next day.
The other semi-final features AmaZulu and Golden Arrows.
Graham said he and his team-mates will be eager to see which team Maduka selects to meet Uthongathi, because that will likely be very similar to the combination that gets to start the league campaign against Sekhukhune at Harry Gwala Stadium a week later in terms of how coaches operate.
Meanwhile, Maritzburg boss Farook Kadodia has bemoaned the fact that the PSL has not given them more home fixtures on their favourite playing day of the week, a Friday.
They have more Saturday games in their programme this time.
We spent a lot of time and energy developing our ‘Friday Nights Live’ theme, and even television commentators have commented on the good vibe they have experienced at our Friday matches.
“But the League says there’s nothing they could do about the current fixtures set-up, and that is very disappointing.
Indeed, it is known that Maritzburg are one of the better supported clubs, and also boast one of the most multi-racial fan bases, in a division that has struggled for many years to attract bums to stadium seats all across the country.
The quality of play, widespread television coverage and the state of the economy have been mentioned as the main reasons for the poor attendances.
But for now, Graham and company are trying to be as sharp as possible for the new season.