By: Sekonyela Qaitsane

The past two weeks have been a difficult period for the current Vodacom Premier League (VPL) champions Bantu FC suffering back to back blows in their title defense attempt.

‘A Mats’o Matebele’ had been on position three for a large part of the season, with intentions to close the gap between them and their bitter rivals, Lioli FC and Matlama FC before being completely knocked out of the race by Lioli FC this past weekend.

They were beaten by a lost 1-0 in their do-or die encounter in Mohale’s Hoek this past week.

This defeat comes a week after going down to Matlama FC by two goals to one at the Bambatha sports arena stadium on match day 27.

A result which turned the title push into a two horse race between Matlama and Lioli. Bantu’s maximum points in the next two fixtures will put Bantu up to 62 points, two short of the 64 points that both Lioli and Matlama are currently on.

Only two fixtures are left for the VPL season for all the 16 clubs.

Despite being in the chasing pack throughout, Bantu’s season has been an unfamiliar one with the Mafeteng outfit blowing hold and cold, failing to replicate last season’s performances.

This led to the club changing the coach early in the season with their 2022/23 title winning Coach Bob Mafoso making way for South African mentor James Madidilane for his second stint at the club. A step which football analyst Tebalo Lebajoa describes as a major factor in their demise.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Informative Newspaper, Lebajoa points that Bantu rushed into changing a coach when results didn’t come around earlier in the season. A decision which he says was rather “rushed.”

“Bantu lost their key players in critical positions this season. You look at Neo Mokhachane and their former Captain Motlomelo Mkhwanazi who left to play their trade in Botswana and an injury to their very important player in defense, Ts’oanelo Koetle in their first game of the season

You could say such things really had an impact to the club and after that Coach Bob Mafoso was forced into some tactical decisions trying to find balance in the team. That automatically would reflect into mixed and fluctuating results” he says.

“According to me, Bantu should have been a little patient with Mafoso to try and see where his strategy would take the team because he had proven himself the previous season by winning them the title. When the new coach came in, he brought his own philosophy and strategies to and I feel like that was a setback because it meant players had to adapt to the new coach’s way of doing things and it took time,” he concludes.

As for who will win the title, Lebajoa admits that it is a tough one to predict because the two teams in contention have proven on numerous occasions how determined they are. 

However, he highlights the danger of Lioli’s opponent in Lifofane FC, who continue to prove to be giant killers of the campaign.

“Both teams face formidable teams before they play each other in a title decider game. Matlama will play LCS who have become more formidable as the season progressed. Lifofane on the other hand have stolen the show against giants like Bantu, Linare and Matlama, so it will be a difficult one indeed.

“I also believe that it will be a matter of who can handle the pressure in the end and who when you look at Matlama’s experience one could say they have an upper hand. They still have a good number of experienced players who play for the national team and have been in this position before.

“They have Rethabile Mokokoane, Monaheng Ramalefane, Jane Thabants’o and Phafa Ts’osane among others while for lioli it is only Mafa Moremoholo, Tumelo Khutlang and Jerry Kamele.” He alludes.

However, he mentions that inexperience on Lioli side can also be advantageous as younger players might want to prove a point and bring back the club’s glory and reputation. Either way, he said it is going to be an exciting moment for local football to see who wins it on the final day.