Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
IF there is a team that Highlanders dread facing in the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League, it has to be Chicken Inn.
Since their entry into the PSL in 2011, Chicken Inn have only lost twice to Highlanders in 14 league encounters while the Gamecocks have won six times with the same number of matches ending in a stalemate. Bosso beat the Gamecocks in the very first meeting between the two teams at Luveve Stadium on Africa Day in 2011 and had to wait a good six years before they thrashed their neighbours 4-0 last season.
Highlanders, under the mentorship of club legend Madinda Ndlovu are playing an attractive brand of football which has brought their fans back to Barbourfields Stadium. Last Sunday, 8 850 parted with their hard earned money to watch Highlanders against Nichrut at Emagumeni. Chicken Inn, as the home team will certainly benefit from Bosso’s huge following.
This afternoon, Highlanders, with four wins and a draw from their opening five matches of the season face one of their biggest challenges when they square off against Chicken Inn. It is a match that if they win, their fans can start to believe that the first championship since 2006 is on its way.
Despite his team’s not so impressive record against Chicken Inn, Ndlovu declared that he was not afraid to face any team in the PSL since they compete at the same level. The only way they can come out second best, the Bosso gaffer believes is that if they have not adequately prepared.
“We fear no team in the Premier League because we are competing at the same level and it is only when we have not done our work properly or prepared properly that we lose a game. If we prepare well, we are ready for any battle with anybody in the league,’’ Ndlovu said.
Highlanders have had their preparations for this tough encounter disrupted by injuries to key players. Defenders, Bukhosi Ncube, Tendai Ndlovu, Honest Moyo as well as midfielder Patrick Musaka are out injured which means that the coach has some juggling to do at the back.
Mbongeni Ndlovu, promoted from Bosso 90 could slot in at left back on his debut appearance in the PSL where he should make up the rearguard with Peter Muduhwa, Charlton Siamalonga and MacClive Phiri to give good cover for Ariel Sibanda who has only conceded once so far this season.
Adrian Silla, Brian Banda, Nigel Makumbe, Godfrey Makaruse and Gabriel Nyoni have been outstanding with the quintet expected to create goal scoring opportunities for Ozias Zibande.
Joey Antipas, the Chicken Inn coach predicted an exciting encounter between the two Bulawayo teams which he feels could go either way. While Highlanders are coming in from a win, Chicken Inn suffered defeat in their last league match when they were beaten 1-0 by Ngezi Platinum Stars. The Gamecocks have won three, drawn one and lost once.
“It’s a potential thriller on the cards and it being a derby they can win but we also could win. Highlanders are on a high and we are coming from a setback at Ngezi, so we are a wounded side who want to bounce back,’’ Antipas said.
Winger George Majika is out injured for Chicken Inn while Simon Munawa makes a return from injury.
“On the injury front we have George Majika out while Simon Munawa makes a return. No special preparations we have undertaken, just a few tactical manoeuvres that we will employ.”
Antipas has never lost a league match to Highlanders as Chicken Inn coach, something he would love to maintain while at the same time he is aware that history is all in the past.
“It’s history, tomorrow (today) is a new ball game it’s a new season, a new year. So we have to put our bodies on the line to win,’’ he said.
Chicken Inn have vast experience with players who have been around for a long time in the PSL compared to Bosso’s talented but inexperienced lads.
Captain Clemence Matawu is a man who has seen it all and at 35 he has been certainly getting better with age. Matawu has controlled the Chicken Inn midfield with such aplomb.
In Obadiah Tarumbwa, Chicken Inn have another player with the know-how at this level who always wants to prove a point against Highlanders, a team where he made his league debut in 2005.
If Matawu and Tarumbwa can hit the right chord with John Bernard, Moses Jackson, Munawa, Elvis Chipezeze, Christopher Samakwere, Innocent Mucheneka, Divine Lunga and Darryl Nyandoro then Bosso are in for a hard time.
Munawa, scorer of a brace for Bosso in that rout over the Gamecocks last season has a point to prove to his former side where he was offloaded.
Highlanders already have an advantage having beaten Chicken Inn 2-1 in the Zimbabwe National Army Commander’s Charities Shield semi-final. The match was played over two days, first abandoned due to a waterlogged Barbourfields and then resumed the following day at Luveve.
Ndlovu said that match gave him an insight into the personnel that are at Antipas’ disposal and Chicken Inn’s way of approaching a match.
In other matches lined up for this afternoon, Triangle welcome Caps United to Gibbo, unbeaten Ngezi are away to Shabanie Mine at Maglas while struggling Dynamos will look to put an end to miserable start to the season when they face Yadah at Rufaro.
Today: Triangle United v Caps United (Gibbo), Shabanie Mine v Ngezi Platinum Stars(Maglas), Chicken Inn v Highlanders (Barbourfields),
Dynamos v Yadah (Rufaro).