The Sunday Mail
IF their performances against FC Platinum, ZPC Kariba and Black Rhinos in recent weeks are anything to go by, then one would be forgiven to assume Highlanders are now there for the taking.
The Bulawayo giants remain on top of the Premiership log standings but they have been looking shaky of late.
Before last weekend, Bosso were unbeaten in 19 games and looked on course to match or break their 23-game unbeaten run record of 2012.
But that was until they fell at Mandava Stadium, where they were clobbered 2-0 by defending champions FC Platinum.
However, the tell-tale signs that Bosso’s first defeat was imminent were already showing.
At Nyamhunga Stadium, they were outplayed by ZPC Kariba, who created a number of clear-cut chances but were unlucky in front of goal.
They followed that up with a scrappy 1-0 win against bottom-placed Rhinos at Barbourfields.
The bubble eventually burst at Mandava last weekend.
Highlanders led Ngezi Platinum Stars by seven points after Match Day 17 but the draw at ZPC Kariba and the loss at FC Platinum saw that gap reduced to just two by the end of Match Day 20.
Portuguese coach Brito and his men will return to Barbourfields Stadium today desperate to bounce back to winning ways and protect their lead at the top.
They face last year’s league runners-up Chicken Inn in an appetising Bulawayo derby that will also be beamed live on ZTN Prime.
Highlanders and Chicken Inn have met 21 times in the league since 2011, when the Gamecocks made their debut in the top-flight.
Highlanders have three wins, Chicken Inn eight, while 10 matches have ended in draws.
The last three meetings between the two sides ended in a stalemate.
Their first clash of 2023, on April 7, ended 0-0 at Barbourfields.
The Gamecocks coach, Prince Matore, expects another crunch afternoon today.
“We are expecting a tough match against the log leaders, who are doing very well at the moment,” Chicken Inn coach Prince Matore told The Sunday Mail Sport.
The Gamecocks have one loss — against Sheasham at home — in their last five matches.
But Bosso are the ones who have the best record in the entire league, having lost just once in 20 matches.
Over the years, the two sides have experienced contrasting fortunes.
While Chicken Inn have consistently finished in the top four since 2015, when they clinched the title, Highlanders have failed to achieve that feat since 2017.
The Gamecocks also enjoy a healthy head-to-head record over Bosso.
“This is a derby, and derbies are won through character and effort, so past records won’t count,” added Matore.
Chicken Inn might be without striker Brian Muza, who was expected to pass a late fitness test.
The 2022 Soccer Star of the Year finalist has, however, been a pale shadow of the forward who struck 11 goals last year.
He has scored a paltry two goals so far this season.
Chicken Inn’s leading scorers are speedy winger Michael Charamba and Malvin Hwata, who have six goals each.
In terms of character, Highlanders have a number of players who can rise to the occasion, including top defender Peter Muduhwa, who was unfortunate to score an own goal against FC Platinum at Mandava.
Skipper and goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda is also a man for the big occasions, so is right-back Andrew “Tower” Mbeba.
Centre-back Mbongeni Ndlovu is also enjoying his game.
In fact, the Bulawayo side’s 19-game unbeaten run is attributed to their defensive style of play.
Their strikers Lynoth Chikuhwa, Stanley Ngala, Washington Navaya and Calvin Chigonero have not been coming to the party.
The fact that Bosso’s leading scorer is midfielder Melikhaya Ncube, with only three goals, is quite telling.
Chikuhwa, who scored the priceless goal that sank Ngezi at Baobab on July 30, has two goals, the same as Chigonero, who is mainly used as an impact substitute.
Ngala and Navaya have one goal apiece.
Indeed, those stats might fool some into misjudging Bosso, who always have an edge whenever they are playing in front of their fans.
But Matore is not reading much into the statistics.
He believes Bosso deserve respect for what they have done since the beginning of the 2023 season.
Matore has presided over 20 league games since stepping out of the shadows of his mentor Joey “Mafero” Antipas when the season began.
He has managed eight wins, as many draws and four losses.
He has also picked up 32 points out of a possible 60, translating to a 53 percent success rate.
“So far so good. We have been trying to be near the chasing pack.
“The 2023 season has been tough — all the teams are competitive and there is no easy meat.”
Highlanders’ mentor Brito believes his men will bounce back.
“The team has been grinding results and we should keep with that positive mind despite the Platinum loss, which I am very confident the team will recover and have positive results to protect our position.
“We will need to bring back our consistency in a derby game, a much tougher game. The preparations for the Chicken Inn game have been good,” he said.
Unfortunately, Bosso will be without one of their standout players, Mackinnon Mushore, who is suspended.
Star midfielder Devine Mhindirira, who missed the game against FC Platinum, is nursing an injury and was set to pass a late fitness test.
Triangle United v ZPC Kariba (Gibbo), CAPS United v Black Rhinos (Bata), Highlanders v Chicken Inn (Barbourfields)