Stellenbosch F.C. coach Steve Barker believes his side were good value for a point after holding DStv Premiership league-leaders Mamelodi Sundowns to a 1-1 draw on Sunday.
Iqraam Rayners netted a late equaliser after Cassius Mailula had scored the opener for the away team.
Barker was left pleased with his side’s tactical discipline against their table-topping opponents.
Rayners and youngster Olwethu Makhanya were among the Stellies stars singled out for praise.
“I think the result was probably a fair one,” Barker said following the match. “We played well enough as a team to have at least got a point from the game. I think we started really well and in the first 20-25 minutes I felt we denied them a lot of the good things that they do.
“We tactically set ourselves up in a way that made it difficult and frustrated them by allowing their centre-backs to have the ball and with a sort-of midfield three. To limit a team to Sundowns to the few chances they had until around the 25th or 30th minute [was pleasing].
“Thereafter they had a few chances which did fall for them, but we also did, so from a tactical point of view I’m really pleased with the execution from the players. It’s just unfortunate that you work on not conceding from open play, which is Sundowns’ strength, and then we conceded from a set-play where the ball is bobbling around a bit.
“Then you are one-nil down but after a big effort that we had put in up unit then, I think getting the equaliser was well deserved. All round again, though, a really committed performance from the team.
“Any point against Sundowns, especially with the form that they are in, and the winning run they had, is a good point for us. It keeps our momentum going as well after our recent results, and we are now one point closer to where we need to be which we want to reach as quickly as possible.”
Sunday’s victory saw Stellenbosch F.C. end Sundowns’ 15-match winning streak in the league, but Barker was more interested in his own side’s ongoing run of five matches without defeat across all competitions.
“I think Sundowns may be disappointed that their winning streak in the league has come to an end, but I think in a couple of weeks they will probably be relieved in a way, because that pressure [to continue winning] just keeps building week in and week out,” he said.
“…It’s a nice pressure to have but it does keep building, so I think now that that winning streak is over now, they can focus on the next big match that they have coming next weekend.
“But it feels good. I told the players that everyone talks about Sundowns and their winning streak but we, ourselves have been in good form. I think not losing today continues the momentum that comes with three wins and a draw in our last four league matches.
“That has just elevated us in the league but there is still work to be done. The competition is still tight. If you suffer one or two losses and the teams below you win, then you get sucked in again, but I think today was a really good point. We can now go away next weekend in the cup (against TS Galaxy) and try and have a good cup run.”
Stellenbosch F.C. CEO Rob Benadie unveiled a new club banner in honour of the late Oshwin Andries at half-time of the match, and presented Oshwin’s family with a pennant and signed match ball from his last match.
“It was devastating for us, the loss of Oshwin, and I think sometimes players realise that life can be taken away at any other stage and that you need to respect what you are doing and be grateful for the fact that you are able to be playing. I think it taught us and the players that every day you have to train hard and play as if it’s your last match…”
Iqraam Rayners continued his impressive form in front of goal by scoring his sixth goal in four matches since returning to the club in January, and the 27-year-old is now already the club’s leading goalscorer this season, in addition to extending his overall record for Stellies.
“I think the acquisition of Iqraam Rayners and Andre de Jong has lifted the mood of the team,” Barker said. “To have a goalscorer come in and score goals for us [has been key]. We had been playing well in previous matches but not taking our chances, so I think that has helped us turn things around.”
“…Rayners was here in the past and helped the club get promoted (in 2019) and I think he’s comfortable here. It’s an environment he enjoys and he is the type of player who is not too structured and who doesn’t have too many defensive responsibilities.
“His ability is getting in behind and making forward runs so maybe giving him that freedom and giving him that bit of love and care [has got the best out of him]. He’s got 42 goals in 85 matches for us which is a massive return. He only scored five times in 58 games for SuperSport United so for him to have six in four (since returning) is really good for him and really good for us.”
While Rayners’ free-scoring form continues to grab headlines, Barker was also effusive in his praise for young defender Olwethu Makhanya, who was effective alongside Man of the Match Vusi Sibiya in his efforts to nullify the threat of the league’s leading goalscorer this season, Peter Shalulile.
“What Makhanya is doing at his young age, just growing every week, and the way he handled the conditions and the best striker in the league [is incredible],” he said.
“He has tenacity and a willingness to be a winner and the way he plays is just calm. There were a couple of times where he made some really timely interventions and even in those moments, he was calm under pressure. He doesn’t just kick the ball away but keeps it.
“So, we are very happy for him and I hope that a player like him gets a look in with the (South Africa national U-23 team), and I’d be surprised if we don’t have two or three players in that U-23 squad.”