Wits have to explode out of the starting blocks when the PSL resumes if they are to win the league title

30 January 2017 - 19:32 By Nick Said
subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
James Keene celebrates scoring a goal with teammates during the Absa Premiership match. File photo
James Keene celebrates scoring a goal with teammates during the Absa Premiership match. File photo
Image: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

BidVest Wits might not have been the busiest side in the January transfer window but they have arguably done the best business adding two experienced players to their already star-studded squad.

The return of English forward James Keene is a huge boost to coach Gavin Hunt‚ providing a proven ‘finisher’ who can hold up the ball and brings the likes of exciting youngster Phakamani Mahlambi into the play.

And the addition of Granwald Scott in the central midfield positions will bring a calmness and steel to that part of the pitch‚ plus the experience of over a decade spent in the Absa Premiership.

Hunt has made no secret that Keene-Mahlambi is his preferred striking combination with Gabadinho Mhango‚ Eleazar Rodgers and Cuthbert Malajila having blown hot and cold in the first half of the campaign.

Keene scored eight goals in 12 starts at Wits in the second half of last season before a knee injury put him on the sidelines.

Wits worked intensively to help him get rehabilitated and he is now ready to resume his career.

He was registered in the January transfer window at the expense of Zimbabwean forward Knox Mutizwa‚ who was loaned to Lamontville Golden Arrows.

The move was possible due to a change in the Premier Soccer League rules for this season.

Previously clubs could only register five foreigners for a single campaign.

But now teams may just have five foreigners registered at any one time‚ but can swap them in and out of their squad during January by de-registering those no longer needed.

Scott spent 12 seasons at Ajax Cape Town after making his debut in 2004/05‚ making 186 starts.

The 29-year-old jumped at the chance to move to Europe last January though‚ but failed to settle in Slovakia where he was in and out of the Slovan side.

His last appearance for the team was in November as a substitute‚ and he did also campaign with them in the early rounds of the UEFA Europa League.

The return of Xola Mlambo from injury means Scott will have competition but with the start of the club’s African Champions League campaign just weeks away‚ it means not just extra matches but also travel to disrupt an already condensed fixture list.

Hunt should also have his first-choice central defensive partnership back in action at the resumption of the league with Buhle Mkhwanazi back from injury and Thulani Hlatshwayo available again.

“We’ve just got to get people back fit‚" Hunt told Times Media Digital this month.

"The first 10 games when we had everyone we were flying.

“We were playing with ease‚ with no pressure‚ and the fluidity was there.

"Then we lost it because by the time we had that week where we lost against SuperSport and Cape Town City‚ we were a makeshift team.”

The end of 2016 could not come fast enough for Wits as they won just one of their last six league games of the calendar year‚ to go with three draws and two defeats.

It means instead of a commanding lead at the top of the league‚ they find themselves level on points with SuperSport United and Cape Town City‚ though having played a game fewer than the former and two games less than the latter.

But lurking ominously six points behind are Mamelodi Sundowns‚ who have played five games fewer than Wits‚ though Hunt will point to points on the board as being important at this stage.

When most of their players are fit then Wits are best equipped to challenge Sundowns for the league title this season.

There is no obvious weakness in that they have two fine goalkeepers in Darren Keet and Moeneeb Josephs‚ strong options both in central defence and in the fullback positions.

In central midfield they have a surplus of talent and veteran wide men Daine Klate and Elias Pelembe are still top performers‚ though the former has also been used more centrally this season.

And up front there is almost an embarrassment of riches‚ five forward who would start at just about any other club in the league.

It will be crucial that the club makes a good start to the New Year and they have some difficult games straight away.

They re-start their league campaign home to Ajax Cape Town on February 7‚ before travelling to Reunion to face Saint-Louisienne in the African Champions League.

They return home to meet Orlando Pirates on February 15 and then have their home tie in the CAF club competition.

A home meeting with Baroka FC on February 22 is a must-win‚ followed by the ‘big one’‚ a clash against Sundowns in the league three days later.

- TMG Digital

subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now