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Why Sundowns coaches do not blame goalkeeper Denis Onyango

29 November 2021 - 15:33 By MARC STRYDOM
Mamelodi Sundowns' veteran goalkeeper Denis Onyango
Mamelodi Sundowns' veteran goalkeeper Denis Onyango
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

Denis Onyango took one for the team with the red card he had to concede in the dying moments of Mamelodi Sundowns' 2-0 win against Sekhukhune United on Saturday and  kept the Brazilians firmly ensconced at the top of the DStv Premiership.

Downs co-coach Rulani Mokwena said the process of mistakes by which Onyango was put under pressure at Tuks Stadium again demonstrates how goalkeepers as the last man are not necessarily at fault even when they make mistakes. Mokwena had defended Onyango in midweek when the big Ugandan keeper's errors played a role in Sundowns spurning a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 against SuperSport United.

Against Sekhukhune on Saturday, Onyango had almost no choice but to foul substitute Tshediso Patjie outside the box as the striker sped through alone after intercepting Mosa Lebusa's back-pass. “A lot of people will speak about the red card, but the reality is — and I always say it to the players — there are probably five or six errors leading up to the bigger error,” Mokwena said. “Even against SuperSport everybody speaks about Denis but I could tell you about Khuliso Mudau's marking, the foul that Thabiso Kutumela makes that he shouldn't. And if you don't make that foul you don't get the possibilities of conceding the goal.

“Even [on Saturday] it's a simple situation where we should progress with the ball through the midfield and there's no reason the pass should go back to Grant Kekana, and then back to 'AJ' [Andile Jali], and then even back to Mosa.

“And when we go to Mosa, who clearly thinks the pass should go to Denis in that moment because there are two strikers, and the one striker's a bit hidden on his shoulder, the pass catches him unaware. And you can clearly see with the body position that he was not expecting the pass. But it comes, and then he's got to commit himself and try to solve the problem of having an aggressive striker.

“And that's part and parcel of playing for Sundowns. When you are a centre-back for Sundowns you have to have the ability to play under pressure, and help the team not just retain possession but progress closer to the goal of the opposition with the pass. And he couldn't do that. And then of course the error that compromised Denis. And from the compromised situation it's very difficult to make any other decision [for Onyango] except maybe to try to guide.

“But the striker is gone and it becomes a situation, but if you don't get Onyango into that compromise then you don't have the red card.

“But this is where we are at Mamelodi Sundowns — we make mistakes and make them together, and take ownership of those. That's the model of play we've developed and we've all accepted that this is how we want to play — we want to build from the back because we are a big team. If you don't build from the back maybe you don't have the 70% possession we had, then maybe you don't create the chances we did and have the clean sheet.

“The strengths of a certain model of play give you possibilities to control the situation, create chances and use the ball well. At the same time you know that when you have the ball in and around your final third there's an element of risk involved. Man City and Chelsea build the same, big teams have this personality and stick very closely to their profile.”

Sundowns' win left the four-time successive champions nine points clear as they face Stellenbosch FC next at Danie Craven Stadium on Saturday.