Archive for August, 2012

Torquay United recorded their first league win of the 2012-13 campaign on home turf, defeating visitors Rochdale in the third league fixture of the season. Succeeding a thrilling, end-to-end 2-2 draw with Cheltenham, this game had it all and even more: 6 goals, a penalty, shots hitting the woodwork, a red card (and four yellows) and a blatant handball.

Both sides came into the match with two draws to their name; Torquay had earned a point at promotion favourites Fleetwood Town before conceding a late equalizer at home to Cheltenham, while Rochdale had also begun their season with a goalless draw, at home to Northampton, and, just like Torquay, had conceded a late equalizer at Chesterfield that spoiled an otherwise impressive display.

With midfielders Damon Lathrope and Lloyd Macklin having joined United’s growing injury list against Cheltenham, Torquay manager Martin Ling was forced to hand former Southend skipper Craig Easton and youth-team product Niall Thompson their first league starts for the club. Rochdale boss John Coleman, meanwhile, named an unchanged line-up from the team that faced Chesterfield four days earlier.

Despite being relegated from League One in 2011-12 after finishing bottom of the table, Rochdale boast a squad that is the envy of many of their new divisional rivals and in former Accrington boss Coleman, they have a manager who is vastly experienced in lower-league football. Making full use of the summer transfer window, Coleman has added ex-Birmingham striker Dele Adebola as well as his former Accrington charges Kevin McIntyre, Ray Putterill, Phil Edwards and Ian Craney.

Looking confident on the ball, despite being away from home and playing in the driving rain at Plainmoor, Rochdale dominated the early stages of the game, playing aesthetically pleasing passing football and even taking short goal kicks, to the chagrin of lone Torquay forward Rene Howe, who soon found himself overworked by the enthusiastic passing of the Rochdale defence.

The visitors enjoyed the first chance of the game, former Plymouth Argyle striker George Donnelly horribly miscuing from a promising position on the right-hand side of United’s penalty area. Rochdale didn’t have to wait long for the opener, however: just seven minutes had elapsed when Jason Kennedy’s low corner found ex-Manchester City midfielder Andrew Tutte, who fired beyond Michael Poke in the Torquay goal. The strike represented Tutte’s second in four days; at the age of just 21 the England youth international has already racked up over 60 Football League appearances.

Aaron Downes scrambles home the second Torquay goal of his career in as many appearances

To their credit, Torquay responded brilliantly. Good work from left-back Kevin Nicholson and captain Lee Mansell allowed winger Billy Bodin to dart in behind the visiting defence, and the Welshman slammed the ball past Josh Lillis from a tight angle. Just five minutes separated the goals, but despite the high-tempo opening, few could have predicted the nature of the game that would follow.

As the rain continued to fall on a sodden Plainmoor, the chances came thick and fast at both ends: Rochdale skipper Peter Cavanagh curled a beautiful, dipping effort onto Poke’s crossbar before a Tutte shot narrowly cleared the goal; at the other end Mansell and Ian Morris forced Lillis into spectacular saves, while Rene Howe failed to direct a free header from Bodin’s pacy cross.

A third goal was inevitable and it arrived on the half-hour mark, Australian centre-back Aaron Downes eventually finding the net after a prolonged one-man goalmouth scramble against the Rochdale defence in which Downes somehow beat Lillis and several men on the line.

The goal seemed to break Rochdale and within minutes it could have been 3-1. Flying winger Thompson, a highly-rated speed merchant, had already proven his worth using his pace to run at defenders, but he now appeared in a central position to thread a fine pass into the path of Howe. Unfortunately for Torquay, the former Peterborough frontman failed to convert his one-on-one opportunity and the ball was soon smothered by Lillis. Howe had wasted a great chance to put daylight between the teams – captain Mansell made sure the striker knew it.

If controversy was all that was lacking in a pulsating first half, Rochdale defender Ryan Edwards duly obliged in first-half stoppage time. A seemingly innocuous long ball was misjudged, and, realizing the ball was bouncing over his head, leaving Howe through on goal, last man Edwards jumped up and punched the sphere to safety, to the disbelief of the 2,700-strong crowd. Thankfully for Rochdale, referee Gavin Ward showed mercy and only awarded a yellow card, despite the deliberate and obvious handball and the fact that Edwards had denied Torquay a clear goalscoring opportunity.

The interval provided little respite for Rochdale and soon after the restart they were pegged back in their own half. Growing in confidence, Thompson was causing havoc on both wings, first testing Lillis with a curling effort from the left before moving back to the right touchline to send in a great cross that Bodin met, only to be denied by a heroic block from new villain Edwards before Howe’s ambitious overhead kick on the rebound went narrowly wide.

When Bodin cracked a powerful shot against Lillis’ crossbar moments later, a third Torquay goal seemed to be on the cards, and it duly arrived on 59 minutes. Kevin Nicholson’s long-range effort was too hot for Lillis to handle, and this time Howe took advantage of the rebound to fire into the bottom corner.

This goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Coleman’s men and morale was further damaged nine minutes later. Ironically, given all of their well-carved out chances, Torquay’s fourth goal was curiously simple: a long clearance out of the United penalty area found Howe with just one Rochdale defender for company. Outmuscling and outpacing his marker, the targetman bore down on goal before producing a deft, delicious chip to seemingly secure the points with more than 20 minutes still to play.

The goal should have put the result beyond all doubt, but a rare error from the otherwise outstanding Downes let the visitors back into the game and set up a far nervier ending than anticipated. The fatal mixture of a fine Rochdale move and some complacent defending from their hosts culminated in Donnelly preparing to pull the trigger from inside the box; Downes, the only Torquay player able to prevent the shot, allowed defensive instincts to take over and brought the striker to the ground with a late tackle.

Although he would have been better served letting Donnelly shoot from a narrow angle against the impressive Poke, rather than desperately trying to prevent a goal that would, in all likelihood, done little to change the destination of the three points, Downes had denied Donnelly a clear goalscoring opportunity and on this occasion referee Ward brandished a straight red card.

Howe about that? – After three games, Rene’s tally already stands at three goals

Succeeding penalty-saving expert Bobby Olejnik between the Yellow posts is, by all accounts, a challenging task, but Poke made it look easy by diving to his right to stop Kennedy’s penalty. The three-goal lead had been preserved, but with teenage rookie and Football League virgin Kirtys MacKenzie the only centre-back among Ling’s substitutes, the pressing issue of Downes’ replacement at the heart of Torquay’s defence needed solving.

Ling responded by understandably withdrawing the impressive Thompson with left-back Tom Cruise, but less fathomable was his decision to play the left-sided Cruise at right-back, moving that position’s previous incumbent Joe Oastler to partner Brian Saah in central defence.

The red card provided Rochdale with the hope necessary to launch a sustained late attempt to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat, and the visitors began to pile on the pressure against a tired Torquay team. Rochdale winger Ray Putterill, introduced early in the second half, had been largely contained by Oastler but now began to cause problems against the out-of-position Cruise, forcing Poke into an impressive stop before Putterill’s team-mates Kennedy and Craney also saw efforts repelled by Torquay’s no.1.

With five minutes of normal time remaining, Putterill finally reduced the deficit, firing home from close range after a lengthy goalmouth scramble. Despite time being against them, Rochdale gamely continued to pour men forward, resulting in a nervy finale for Torquay supporters, with much of the angst being unfairly taken out on midfielder Ian Morris, who was somehow blamed for 10-man United’s collective inability to break out of their half.  As manager Ling admitted after the final whistle: “If Lee Mansell makes a bad touch or bad pass, they cheer. If Ian Morris does it, the crowd groans a bit…we need the fans to get behind everybody, not just the players they like.”

Torquay had to survive one more late scare when Kevin Nicholson was forced to clear a goalbound Kennedy effort off the line, but the hosts’ cobbled-together defence held on for a hugely impressive three points at the end of a thrilling, exhausting contest. This is only the second time United have hit four at home under Ling in competitive fixtures, but similar displays of attacking intent throughout the season will surely yield more high-scoring games.

The only black mark against a fine performance, Downes’ red card gives Ling a selection headache ahead of Saturday’s trip to Port Vale: MacKenzie, the only other centre-back in Torquay’s small squad, has no Football League experience and was only promoted to the first-team in April; Cruise and Oastler and more comfortable at full-back; and with transfer deadline-day looming, not to mention a lack of funds, Ling will do well to secure a late loanee to provide short-term cover.

Torquay United: Poke; Oastler, Downes (sent-off 73), Saah, Nicholson; Thompson (Cruise 74), Mansell, Easton, Morris, Bodin (Craig 80); Howe (Jarvis 75). Subs not used: Rice, Leadbitter, MacKenzie, Yeoman.

Rochdale: Lillis; Cavanagh, R.Edwards, P.Edwards (Craney 70), Pearson; Kennedy, Tutte, Grimes (Putterill 55), McIntyre; Donnelly, Adebola (Curran 70). Subs not used: Rafferty, Bennett, Barry-Murphy, Smith.

Referee: Gavin Ward.

Attendance: 2,731 (207 away).


Images: Downes goal –; Howe –

Torquay United goalkeeper Martin Rice has revealed that his penalty save in a 1-0 FA Trophy final defeat to Ebbsfleet United in 2008 is the best stop he has made in a nine-year senior career that has also taken in multiple seasons at both Exeter City and Truro City.

Rice first joined Torquay in 2007 after moving from Devon rivals and hometown club Exeter City, but, finding first-team opportunities limited at Plainmoor, joined non-league Truro two years later. A successful stay at Treyew Road – which took in two promotions in his three seasons at the club – convinced new Torquay manager Martin Ling to swoop for Rice’s signature in July 2011 after both of United’s senior goalkeepers in 2010-11, Scott Bevan and Danny Potter, had joined the Plainmoor exodus started by boss Paul Buckle’s defection to Bristol Rovers earlier that summer.

“The best save I ever made”: Rice produces a fine stop to deny McPhee

Lured by the promise of professional football, Rice found himself behind first-choice goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik on his return to Torquay, but earned praise from coaching staff and team-mates alike for his superb attitude and enthusiasm – so much so that United left-back Kevin Nicholson named the custodian as his “Player of the Season” despite the fact that Rice did not made a single league appearance in 2011-12! Says Ling: “The enthusiasm and drive he brings to the place is phenomenal…I’ve been really pleased with how he has done the job as number two.”

Although Torquay inevitably lost Olejnik this summer, to Championship side Peterborough United, Rice has once more found himself beginning the season on the bench, with new signing Michael Poke assuming the role of first-choice goalkeeper. Ironically, Poke was one of the glovesmen obstructing Rice’s path to first-team football in his initial spell at United: the pair formed the club’s goalkeeping unit in the 2008-09 promotion-winning campaign, and Martin was on the bench as Torquay, with Poke between the posts, defeated Cambridge United in the play-off final on 17 May 2009.

Rice had, however, started at Wembley in United’s 1-0 FA Trophy final defeat to Ebbsfleet United in May 2008, and it was in this game that the goalkeeper made what he believes to be the best save of his career – a spot-kick stop to deny future Torquay team-mate Chris McPhee when the scores were still level. In an interview with Torquay’s match-day programme about the science and demands of his position, Rice said “The best save I ever made was the penalty at Wembley, especially as I’d given the pen away!”

The 26-year-old added: “I have always loved the role [of a goalkeeper] and there are so many different areas to work on: handling crosses, shot-stopping, kicking…making saves is the obvious area of glory for a ‘keeper but coming for crosses is equally satisfying because you know it’s helping out the defenders.”

Echoing Matt Barlow’s musings in today’s Daily Mail, Rice admitted the isolation of his position can be a drawback: “The life of a goalkeeper can be lonely and standing out on the pitch can sometimes be a lonely place, but you’ve always got to be on your toes and ready for the ball coming over the top.

“It is a different psychology [compared to outfield positions] but you can sometimes think about things too much; if you make a mistake, it’s important not to excessively study what happened and keep your mind on the game.”


Watch the save in question:


The new Premier Soccer League season may be underway, but South Africa’s elite clubs are still chopping and changing their squads in a late attempt to improve their chances of success in 2012-13. Recent weeks have seen imports from other African leagues, potential exports to Europe and a number of notable transfers between rival PSL clubs.

Perhaps this week’s most surprising story is SuperSport left-back Innocent Mdledle’s pending transfer to Wits University – just one month after signing a two-year deal at SuperSport. The defender only left previous club Mamelodi Sundowns in July but appears to be heading to his third club in two months after realising playing time at SuperSport may be limited. Not-so-innocent Mdledle was shown the door by Mamelodi after being arrested for drink driving.

Mbesuma has admitted he “couldn’t wait to join Pirates” after hearing of the champions’ interest

Another former SuperSport player looking for increased first-team opportunites is 21-year-old Orlando Pirates midfielder Mduduzi Nyanda, who is currently training with Bloemfontein Celtic. Unable to break into Pirates’ starting XI, Nyanda was loaned to both SuperSport and Platinum Stars last term, and has decided that his future lies away from the Orlando Stadium.

Platinum Stars have themselves completed the signing of Botswana no.1 Kabelo Dembe from Township Rollers in the goalkeeper’s homeland. Already his country’s first-choice custodian at the tender age of 22, Dembe impressed several PSL clubs after shining in Botswana’s 1-1 draw with the South African national team in June.

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Johan Neeskens seems to have closed the door on young defender Siyanda Xulu’s move to Russian outfit FC Rostov by telling reporters there would be no more transfers at the Pretorian club: “I am happy with the players who are here now, so I don’t need any more players and nobody has to go.”

Russian Premier League side Rostov had seen their initial bid of R5 million turned down by Sundowns, much to Xulu’s chagrin: the 20-year-old took to his Facebook page to slate his current employers, sighing “What about my dream; what about my career [?] It is always about money.” Keen to move abroad, Xulu has already enjoyed trials at European giants Barcelona and Arsenal, but looks set to remain in South Africa this season after Neeskens said “He can go if [Rostov] come in with a better offer”, and told the defender’s potential suitors that unless the transfer is completed by the end of the week, the deal is off.

Elsewhere in the league, defending champions Orlando Pirates added Zambian international Collins Mbesuma to a fearsome forward line that already includes ex-Blackburn forward Benni McCarthy – South Africa’s all-time top-scorer – as well as another new signing, Takesure Chinyama, who enjoyed a prolific spell in the Polish top flight, and promising youngster Bongani Ndulula, who is nicknamed “Drogba” by team-mates and coaches alike.

Portly striker Mbesuma, 28, joins on a 3-year deal from Golden Arrows, and Pirates coach Augusto Palacios has confirmed that the transfer marks the end of the club’s summer dealings, calling Mbesuma “the last player [who is] coming to Orlando Pirates to reinforce the squad for the PSL”.



Torquay United were unceremoniously dumped out of the League Cup by Championship side Leicester City on Tuesday night as the Foxes emphatically highlighted the gulf in class between England’s second and fourth tiers by cruising to a 4-0 win.

Both sides had been eliminated early on in last season’s tournament, Torquay losing 4-1 at an impressive Southampton who would go on to earn promotion to the Premier League; Leicester reaching the third round before losing on penalties to divisional rivals Cardiff City.

With cup competitions such as this a valuable source of income for lower-league clubs, Torquay manager Martin Ling unsurprisingly selected his strongest outfit, although his hand was somewhat forced by the absence through injury of midfielders Danny Stevens, Lloyd Macklin and Nathan Craig, while £70,000 signing Billy Bodin was also unavailable after being called up to the Wales under-21 squad.

With Ling still able to pick from a full complement of players in other areas of the squad, United lined up with their first-choice defensive unit of goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, full-backs Joe Oastler and Kevin Nicholson and centre-backs Brian Saah and Aaron Coombes, while Ryan Jarvis and Ian Morris replaced Stevens and Bodin on the wings as captain Lee Mansell was joined in the middle of the park by Damon Lathrope and new recruit Craig Easton. As was the case in 2011-12, targetman Rene Howe led the line on his own.

Leicester winger Ben Marshall scored a brilliant free-kick

Though any combination of their impressive squad would have seen them enter the match as favourites, Leicester boss Nigel Pearson took no chances by selecting a strong starting XI that included former Manchester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, ex-England international Paul Konchesky, highly-rated winger Lloyd Dyer and forward Jermaine Beckford, who was Premier League side Everton’s joint-top scorer just two seasons ago.

Showing no signs of what was to come, the game’s early exchanges were surprisingly even, Leicester winger Ben Marshall firing well over from a decent position before Lee Mansell saw a dangerous header deflected over Schmeichel’s crossbar. Indeed, Torquay matched their illustrious opponents for the opening 20 minutes – and only a mistake at the back allowed Leicester to seize the initiative.

The sides had previously traded several long balls to no avail, and the aerial pass launched by Leicester’s defence on 21 minutes seemed to be no different. As United right-back Joe Oastler attempted to usher the ball harmlessly out of play for a goal kick, however, he inadvertently flicked the ball with his thigh, allowing his pursuer Nathan Dyer to burst into the box. The former West Brom winger showed his class by calmly rounding Michael Poke and slotting into an empty net.

Torquay responded quickly, and typically, it was Mansell who came closest to levelling the scores on the half-hour mark. The United captain thundered a header goalwards that Schmeichel tipped onto the bar, but Leicester learned their lesson and recovered quickly to double their lead ten minutes before half-time.

A Leicester counter-attack was somewhat slowed by an accidental trip from Damon Lathrope, but despite the visitors eventually firing off a shot that forced Michael Poke into a diving save, referee Oliver Langford chose to bring play back and award the free-kick. It was a harsh decision that annoyed many Torquay supporters, and their anger was quadrupled when Leicester’s  Ben Marshall curled a brilliant effort over the wall and into the top corner of Poke’s goal.

The second goal represented a huge blow to Torquay’s chances of winning the game – even 1-0 down had been an uphill task, but that scoreline was still retrievable; a 2-0 deficit was unlikely to be overcome against a thoroughly professional Leicester side that had their hosts just where they wanted them.

Needing to pour more men forward to assist the isolated Howe if they were to get back into the game, Torquay began the second half in more attacking fashion, but as the game wore on, the Gulls’ defensive flaws were highlighted by a series of rapid Leicester counter-attacks. With most of the Torquay midfield stranded in the Leicester half as the visitors broke away, United’s defence was frequently exposed by the pace of Beckford and fellow forward Jamie Vardy, as well as wingers Dyer and Marshall, and the Foxes always looked like adding to their lead.

Even so, it came as something of a surprise when Leicester’s former Manchester United midfielder Matty James put the result beyond doubt just three minutes into the second half. Played through on goal by Beckford, the 21-year-old showed great composure to slide the ball past Poke and effectively end the game as a contest.

Tiring and increasingly struggling to contain Leicester’s rampant attack, Torquay spent much of the next 15 minutes trying to avoid falling further behind, Beckford only denied City’s fourth by an excellent recovery save from Poke after the ex-Leeds forward appeared to have rounded the goalkeeper.

As the game entered its final throes, both managers turned to their dugouts for inspiration; in doing so further highlighting the gulf in class between the two clubs. Pearson introduced David Nugent, Andy King and Neil Danns – the first two full internationals for England and Wales respectively, Danns boasting Premier League experience achieved at Blackburn aged just 20, while Ling brought on left-sided former Arsenal trainee Tom Cruise and youth-team products Niall Thompson and Ashley Yeoman, who have accumulated just tfive Football League appearances between them.

Leicester celebrate a job well done

Though Thompson’s brief cameo showed glimpses of promise – including a threatening run that saw him turn former Liverpool defender Konchesky before delivering whipping a dangerous cross into the box – Leicester still looked the more likely team to score, and on 77 minutes £1 million signing Vardy rubbed salt into the Gulls’ wounds. The simplicity of the final goal was as depressing as the full-time result: a hopeful cross from Marshall was left by both of United’s centre-backs; Vardy ran through on goal, unchallenged, before nodding the ball over a stranded Poke who had rushed out, leaving his net unguarded.

Torquay will not face such quality in any of their 46 League Two fixtures this season, but without playmaker Eunan O’Kane’s creativity in midfield – replaced on Tuesday by the more industrious and defence-minded Craig Easton – the Gulls may struggle to unlock opposition defences, especially if Howe is deployed as the lone striker, a role that saw him easily outnumbered by Leicester’s back four.

United will hope to welcome back Stevens, Macklin and Craig in time for Saturday’s league opener at Fleetwood Town, and the pace of the former two players, combined with Craig’s central creativity, could prove key – either utilised from the start or from the bench. Thankfully for the club, United manager Ling resisted the temptation to dismiss the cup loss as a “nothing game”, admitting “We were well beaten on the night and if you play a team of Leicester’s quality, all 11 players need to reach their potential. We only had three or four players who did that… Overall, it was disappointing because we didn’t give Leicester a real game.”

Ling also criticized the performances of defenders Joe Oastler and Kevin Nicholson (the latter’s uncharacteristically poor dead-ball delivery being a large source of disappointment for supporters) as well as his side’s attacking play: “the full-backs were not up to the standard I expect, and I don’t think our passing asked them enough questions…I was hoping Leicester would be another building block in terms of confidence after the Leeds and Stoke [pre-season friendly] games, but we had a reality check. Their movement was excellent but we made it too easy for them.”

Torquay: Poke, Oastler, Saah, Downes, Nicholson; Jarvis (Yeoman 76), Mansell (C), Lathrope, Easton (Thompson 64), Ian Morris (Cruise 72); Howe. Subs not used: Rice, MacKenzie, Craig.

Leicester: Schmeichel, De Laet, Morgan (C), Moore, Konchesky; Marshall, Drinkwater (Danns 78), James (King 74), Dyer (Nugent 67); Vardy, Beckford. Subs not used: Logan, Waghorn, Gallagher, Schlupp.

Referee: Oliver Langford.

Attendance: 3,367 (1,166 Leicester).


Images: Marshall – BBC/Getty Images; Leicester team celebration –

This season’s Premier Soccer League could see the tightest title race in years, with multiple clubs suitably equipped to challenge at the right end of the table. As PSL chairman Irvin Khoza grins: “There is no doubt that the Premiership has become a competitive league that is guaranteed to go to a photo finish season after season. In fact, in the last five years the Premiership was decided in the final matches played simultaneously under circumstances where duplicate trophies and helicopters were held on ‘stand by’.” With 10 million rand at stake for the winners this time around, that will not change in 2012-13.

Having won every PSL title between 2007-08 and 2009-10, SuperSport United dramatically fell from grace in 2010-11, finishing in seventh place – twenty points adrift of the top two. They recovered last season, however, finishing third, and have improved a solid squad that contains Zambian African Cup of Nations-winning pair Davies Nkausu and Clifford Mulenga – as well as former Wolfsburg forward Mame Niang – with the acquisitions of South Africa international George Maluleka and experienced midfielder Mark Haskins.

Last season’s champions Orlando Pirates, one of the country’s traditional “big two” along with Johannesburg rivals Kaizer Chiefs, will be hoping to make it three in a row, having also won the 2010-11 PSL.  A quiet transfer window has seen Pirates replace 36-cap South Africa international Benson Mhlongo with the younger Mpho Makola. Peruvian coach Augusto Palacios’ lack of signings suggests the club are confident of retaining their title.

Returning home… South Africa’s most-capped player, Aaron Mokoena

Despite having failed to win the league since 2004-05, slipping to fifth last season, Kaizer Chiefs seem more eager to offload players than bring new faces to Soccer City. The country’s most popular club have allowed Zimbabwe defender Thomas Sweswe to join Bidvest Wits and sold his compatriot Abbas Amidu to join relegation-battlers Black Leopards. Defender Eric Mathoho, purchased from Bloemfontein Celtic for a sizeable fee, represents Chiefs’ only major signing. The Glamour Boys have also replaced caretaker coach Ace Khuse with Scotsman and former Finland, South Africa and England under-19 boss Stuart Baxter. Despite his vast experience – with over 25 years in management – Baxter will find winning the PSL this season one of the hardest tasks he has faced.

Having narrowly avoided relegation the previous season, few expected Moroka Swallows to challenge for the title in 2011-12. However, led by the experienced Gordon Igesund, the Soweto-based side stormed to second place, finishing just two points shy of champions Orlando Pirates. With Igesund lured away by the South African national team, and five senior players leaving the club, Swallows will struggle to emulate last season’s performance in 2012-13. The Birds have brought in two new faces, however, namely Mamelodi defender James Mayinga and Pirates midfielder Bennet Chenene, and they retain last season’s top-scorer Siyabonga Nomvethe.

With three top-four finishes in as many seasons, Mamelodi Sundowns will be aiming to finally retake the league title that has evaded them  since 2006-07. With former Dutch midfielder Johan Neeskens – a veteran of two World Cup finals during his playing days – at the helm, Mamelodi will be in with a shot this term. Neeskens has shored up the defence by buying compatriot Alje Schut from Utrecht, and has also signed players from the Greek and Brazilian leagues.

A host of clubs –  including Free State Stars, Bloemfontein Celtic, Platinum Stars, Ajax Cape Town and AmaZulu – will battle to occupy the remaining top-half places, while last season’s strugglers Bidvest Wits could also compete after signing former Portsmouth and South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena, who returns home after 13 years abroad.

Survival will be the name of the game for Maritzburg United, Black Leopards, Golden Arrows and promoted sides Tuks FC and Chippa United – both of whom are in the top-flight for the first time. Chippa’s case has not been helped by an enforced move to a new stadium (their ground of choice was deemed not up to PSL standards) and a change of coaches – promotion-winning boss Roger Sikhakane replaced by former schoolteacher Manqoba Mngqithi.