Stellenbosch F.C. Head Coach Steve Barker believes the time has come for the Club to make its presence felt in the cup competitions ahead of Saturday’s Nedbank Cup Round of 32 clash against Swallows F.C.
Stellenbosch F.C. will play host to Swallows F.C. in the Nedbank Cup Round of 32 this weekend
The match will be played at the Athlone Stadium as opposed to Stellies’ traditional home
Steve Barker is hoping 2023 will be the year the Club advances deep into the competition
Stellenbosch F.C. are set to get their 2023 Nedbank Cup campaign underway this weekend when the club welcomes Swallows F.C. to the Athlone Stadium on Saturday. The Maroons rank among the youngest, if not the youngest teams in the competition in terms of the squad’s average age but Head Coach Steve Barker believes they have the necessary tools to mount a challenge this year.
“It reminds me a bit of when we had a good Cup run during my time with Tuks,” Barker said during the Nedbank Cup media event on Wednesday. “We had a young squad with lots of energy and enthusiasm, and a lot of them went on to have really good careers through the exposure of the competition.
“Now again, we have a young, youthful squad who are all there on merit. The makeup of our squad consists of about 50% of players under the age of around 23 so invariably they will get their opportunities, and there will be opportunities for them again this weekend.
“The important part is that we also want to win trophies, that’s why we work and train every day as hard as we do, and there are three trophies on offer for the season. Unfortunately we weren’t able to advance in the MTN 8 and the league is beyond us this season – I think beyond most teams – so the next trophy on offer is the Nedbank Cup.”
Saturday’s encounter will be played at the Athlone Stadium due to a scheduling conflict at Stellies’ home ground, the Danie Craven Stadium, but Barker insists that his side are familiar with the stadium and won’t be affected by the change of venue.
“I don’t think it will be too difficult [to adjust to playing at Athlone Stadium],” he said. “Ideally, we would have wanted to play at the Danie Craven Stadium but there are activities happening there that are of high importance, so unfortunately the venue wasn’t available.
“A lot of our players come from Cape Town and we did play some matches at Athlone Stadium during our first season or two, so I believe that the majority of the support will still be there for us, and we will get a lot of our supporters from Stellenbosch to come through as well.
“It’s a nice stadium, we trained there (on Wednesday) morning, and the pitch is looking in good nick, the surface is really good so we are looking forward to playing there. It’s not ideal but there are far bigger things to be concerned about, and wherever we play, we will put out our best performance.”
Tickets for the match are available to purchase from ticketpro outlets at a cost of R40 per person.
No tickets will be sold at the gate.
Stellenbosch have never advanced beyond the Round of 16 in the Nedbank Cup but will be looking to use the match against Swallows as a springboard upon which to buck that trend, after previously snapping a nine-match winless streak with two consecutive victories in club’s most recent DStv Premiership fixtures.
“I always see the positive side of things,” Barker added. “Someone asked me about our nine match winless streak in the league, and I said ‘It’s not a bad thing because it can’t continue, it will eventually break,’ and I’m hoping that will happen in the Cup too.
“The Nedbank Cup is the type of competition that, if you can get past the first hurdle and get into the last 16 or last eight, the mood and of the players, as young as they are, will be galvanised by the feeling that they have a chance to get the final.
“It has been disappointing for us a club [not to have progressed further in the cups before]. We’re at the stage as a club, in our fourth year in the PSL since our promotion, where we believe at some stage we have to have a good Cup run and be reaching the semi-final and final stages, so hopefully that will be this season.
[Coming in off] back-to-back wins in the PSL is huge, and it’s not easy to achieve. We needed it more than ever, so it was good to get those victories and it’s about now keeping that momentum. Confidence has grown in the team from those positive results, from the last two performances and the wins, so it’s about momentum.
“Saturday does also afford a Club like ourselves where a lot of players have been playing a lot of minutes regularly, to get the balance right by putting out a team that can win the match while using it wisely for the one or two bodies who may need a rest. We haven’t finalised how we will go, but we have a good idea, and it’s positive to have won the last two matches.”
This weekend’s match will also see Stellies come up against a Swallows side led by Ernst Middendorp, who has turned the Dube Birds into a formidable defensive force since joining the club in December.
“…There are games where there have been a lot of defensively-minded players, so they are a difficult team to beat, to break down and to play against,” Barker concluded. “They may rely on set-pieces or a more direct sort of play, and they’re also coming off a very good win [against Richards Bay].
“That means we’ll have to play well to break down their defensive structures and ask questions of them, but at the same time our league has proven that having possession doesn’t always win you matches. We may have more possession that we might normally have, which can also be a challenge, so we must use that possession wisely and purposefully and not be caught on the transition or the encounter.
“We will also have to defend our set-plays really well and not be sucker punched by a soft set-piece type goal. They are a tough team, and the important part with them is to hopefully get into a lead and force them to come about a bit and play, and that may play into our hands.”
Key fixture information:
Date: Saturday, 11 February 2023
Venue: Athlone Stadium, Cape Town
Tickets: R40 all ages, available for purchase at ticketpro outlets.
Broadcast: SuperSport and SABC 1