Highlanders out to further derail Ngezi title push
Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League title hopefuls Ngezi Platinum Stars face a stern test on their visit to Highlanders, just days after a disastrous 1-0 loss at relegation candidates Mutare City ended their five match unbeaten run.
In a quest for claiming a maiden league title in only their third season in the top flight, Ngezi take to battle at Barbourfields placed four points behind log leaders FC Platinum going, into the last ten matches of the season.
Anything other than full points could see the upstarts cede more ground to the champions, who themselves host Mutare City on Saturday.
In other Matchday 25 fixtures set for the weekend, third-placed Chicken Inn - whose title prospects dwindled significantly after last week's 1-0 loss to ZPC Kariba left them 11 points adrift of the summit - will look to bounce back with victory at Yadah.
Harare giants CAPS United, on the other hand, have their own issues to overcome as they host Nichrut on the back of a run that has seen them post just one win in the last six matches, to leave coach Lloyd Chitembwe facing the wrath of their fans.
Elsewhere, fourth-placed Triangle visit Chapungu, buoyed by a three match winning streak which has lifted them to within three points of Chicken Inn, while troubled Dynamos, whose players spent the better part of the week boycotting training in protest over outstanding bonuses, take their improbable relegation battle to Bulawayo City.
Effectively, however, the battle for the title is now a two horse race and the big match for the weekend is in Bulawayo, where Ngezi coach Tonderai Ndiraya will hope for a swift reaction from his team after last weekend's setback in Mutare.
"We didn't do ourselves any great favours by losing to Mutare City but we still have a chance," Ndiraya told Newsday this week.
"We are fighting for the championship and to allow ourselves to drop points in the manner we did is so disappointing. We need to improve going forward ... The next games are not easy for us."
Ngezi had collected 13 points from their previous five matches to come within a point of the summit before they were stopped by Mutare City, and Ndiraya cannot afford another slide into the kind of slump which saw them lose four straight matches either side of the mid-season break.
The former Dynamos midfielder will hope forwards Donald Teguru, James Ngulube and Master Chaodza will have recovered their scoring form and punish a Highlanders side whose biggest enemy has been inconsistency.
Highlanders have collected just two wins in their last seven matches, and although they have the second-best defence in the top-flight with just 15 goals conceded in 22 matches, the same cannot be said of their strike-force.
And although a top-four finish remains a realistic target, coach Madinda Ndlovu knows his strikers must start firing soon enough.
Much of the pressure will however be on Ngezi, whose early season form made them overwhelming favourites for the title but have since lost the initiative to champions Platinum.