The Sunday Mail
IF their last 12 games were an examination paper, then Highlanders coach Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu would have scored 41,6 percent.
Bosso might not have lost in their last seven league outings, but a return of 15 points out of a possible 36 is worrisome, especially against the background of the looming Battle of Zimbabwe showdown with rivals Dynamos.
The Bulawayo giants are win-less in their last three matches and have dropped what Mpofu has described as “six crucial points” in the process.
In fact, Bosso have one win in their last five matches and find themselves drifting towards the relegation zone rather charging towards the title.
This is the situation at Highlanders ahead of their league encounter against resurgent Bulawayo Chiefs at Barbourfields Stadium this afternoon.
It’s a game that they know they must win if they are to boost morale in their camp ahead of the showdown with DeMbare at the same venue next weekend.
They are facing a revived Chiefs outfit that has not lost in the last four assignments.
“The Ninjas” won their last two matches against WhaWha and Bulawayo City and have gradually been moving up the log table.
Chiefs are now 10th, with 17 points from 13 matches, two ahead of Highlanders who have three wins, six draws and three losses in their 12 matches.
Bosso’s match against FC Platinum at Mandava was abandoned due to crowd trouble a fortnight ago.
The PSL are still to rule on that ill-fated clash.
Under-pressure Highlanders coach Mpofu has described today’s match against Chiefs as “a must-win encounter”.
The affable gaffer is still confident his charges will soon turn the corner.
“A very tricky game that we are approaching against Bulawayo Chiefs; it’s a derby. What makes it even more difficult is that we are playing local boys.
“The players know each other very well; they see each other almost daily,” Mpofu told The Sunday Mail Sport.
There are four games before the 2021/2022 Premiership race reaches the halfway mark and Bosso have already fallen 14 points behind leaders DeMbare.
The two giants clash next Sunday before Bosso travel for yet another cagey assignment to ZPC Kariba.
Highlanders will then conclude their first round of matches with a home fixture against Taurai Mangwiro’s Harare City.
“I must say we need to bounce back and start collecting points. We have lost six crucial points in the last three games and there are no excuses come Sunday (today).
“We need to win this one; we need to go into the big one against Dynamos next weekend a motivated team,” he said.
Highlanders are missing key player and vice captain Nqobizitha Masuku, who is nursing an injury, but speedy forward Ray Lunga is back at training.
Masuku has been one of the best players in the league so far.
He has five goals to his name.
“He (Masuku) will take a break and go for treatment to make sure that he is 100 percent fit when we meet Dynamos next week.
“Silla (Adrian) has a running stomach. He was on drip for the past two days but he is joining the rest of the squad anytime from now.
“Rahman Kutsanzira is still out with a sore throat. Goalkeeper Raphael Pitisi and Washington Navaya are down again with flu.”
Apart from the injuries and illness dogging his side, Mpofu is also worried about Bosso’s failure to protect a lead.
They led against FC Platinum a fortnight ago but the miners equalised and could have even gone on to win had a penalty they were awarded late on been allowed to be taken.
The high-profile clash was abandoned in the 82nd minute when Highlanders fans invaded the pitch in protest against referee Kuzivakwamwari Jaravaza’s decision to award the hosts a penalty.
Highlanders also took the lead through Godfrey Makaruse in their high-profile derby against Chicken Inn but allowed the Gamecocks to find their way back for a share of the spoils.
“The match against Bulawayo Chiefs is a big game for us, but we really need to grind out a result.
“My worry though is that we have been taking early leads for the past two games but we are failing to protect what we have.
“We are failing to defend collectively as a team, and it’s something that we need to work on.
“But looking at the personnel that I have, especially at the back, we have some of the best defenders in the country.
“We also have one of the best goalkeepers in the country (Ariel Sibanda), so they must do better. They know that they must do better.
“But I am ready, come Sunday, let’s see how it unfolds, but this is a must-win game for Highlanders,” said Mpofu.
It is the first time Highlanders are facing Chiefs since the latter hired Nilton Terroso, and the Portuguese gaffer is aware of the task at hand.
“It’s my first game against Highlanders and playing at Barbourfields is going to be very difficult for us,” Terroso said.
“But, we have to look at it as something that’s exciting and motivating. Like I said, it’s going to be a good test for us to compete with that sort of team.”
Chiefs, who welcome back striker Farau Matare, are unbeaten in their last four games, and Terroso is hoping to maintain that momentum.
“It is (run of results) important for us and it’s satisfying the fact that we have been able to get points in difficult games.
“Not only the two wins (against Bulawayo City and WhaWha), but even drawing against Ngezi at home and going to Manica and getting a draw as well.
“We take the positives from that and ultimately we play and we train and we sacrifice ourselves to win games.
“So when you win games, it’s positive and helps you gain confidence, as well as building morale going forward,” he said.
Terroso, a holder of a UEFA B licence and a sport science degree, is, however, not planning to give Highlanders any special treatment.
“It doesn’t mean anything much going into this game against Highlanders.
“Yes, it’s a very big task against Highlanders, it’s a huge test for us to play such a huge team in this country and also playing them at their home ground.
“But this game is not more important than the others. For us, the most important game is always the next one.
“So the game against Highlanders is big not because it’s Highlanders, but because it’s our next game,” added Terroso.
Highlanders and Bulawayo Chiefs have met four times in the league since 2018 when the latter were promoted into the PSL.
The two sides have two wins apiece.
The last time they met in the league, Bulawayo Chiefs won 1-0 on December 11, 2019.
Chiefs are one of the most financially stable teams in the league and have managed to lure some of the best players in the league such as Warriors players Kelvin Madzongwe and Perfect Chikwende, striker Obriel Chirinda as well as the highly rated Moyo twins, Kelvin and Elvis.