UP got their relegation campaign off to a poor start as they lost 1-0 at home to a clinical Mbombela side. They faced another disappointment in Johannesburg where they lost 1-0 to a determined Highlands Park who booked their place in the PSL 2016/2017 season with a 2-0 win over Mbombela United.UP then played out a goalless draw against Highlands Park at the Tuks Stadium, leaving them at the bottom of the relegation table and consigning them to relegation. This means that UP will play in the NFD for the first time since 2012.
UP’s relegation can have both a negative and positive effect on the club. In terms of the negatives, UP’s top players may elect to leave the club to play for a team in the PSL, which could leave the team short of squad numbers come the start of what can be a very competitive NFD season. However, UP’s relegation may be a positive as it allows the club to rethink the brand of football that has been played and allows a certain amount of restructuring so that the team can come back stronger if they gain promotion into the PSL.
Coach Shaun Bartlett has been in this position before as he took the Lamontville Golden Arrows into the PSL in the 2014/2015 season and has experience of coaching in the NFD. When asked how UP had got to the point of relegation, Bartlett said, “We had a great five-year period in the PSL, and maybe part of the reason we are in this situation is that the players may have become a little complacent. Everything happens for a reason, in my opinion. I think being at a club now having to start a new team means we can give more opportunities to younger players and students that can play at a higher level.”
In order to regain their spot in the PSL, UP needs to finish in the top three of the NFD. If UP finishes first at the end of the NFD season they would guaranteed automatic promotion and allow them to avoid the relegation playoffs. Should the team finish second or third on the NFD log they would then have to play relegation matches against the team who finishes second from bottom in the PSL 2016/2017 season.
When asked about how the team plans to regain their spot in the PSL and compete in the NFD, Bartlett answered, “We are going to try and put as strong a team together as we can so we can get back into the PSL as quick as possible. The NFD is a very tough competition to play in, and in my opinion can be tougher than the PSL due to the fact that the players tend to show plenty of fighting spirit and work hard, and it’s not always about being technically good. That is what I am going to look for in terms of putting a squad together. We are going to have to travel far in this competition, so we need players with a lot of character both on and off the field.”
Photo: Stefan Stander.