Steve Barker has set his sights on improved fortunes during the second quarter of the season after suffering a 3-1 DStv Premiership defeat to Mamelodi Sundowns on Wednesday.
Stellenbosch FC wrapped up a challenging week in Johannesburg with a 3-1 defeat to league-leaders Mamelodi Sundowns on Wednesday, with Grant Kekana, Aubrey Modiba, and Siyabonga Mabena scoring to cancel out Devin Titus’ opening goal.
Head coach Steve Barker lamented the absence of a number of key players through injury and suspension, as well as his side’s struggles in dealing with Sundowns’ set-pieces, but praised the application from his young starting XI.
“Coming into the match, we knew it would be a very challenging task for us,” Barker said during his post-match press conference.
“Sundowns are obviously the benchmark for South African football and one of the best teams on the continent, and having gone unbeaten in their previous 31 games, we knew they would be up to the task of breaking the record [for the longest unbeaten run in the Premiership].
“We were also depleted with three of our starting defenders either injured [Deano van Rooyen and Fawaaz Basadien] or suspended [Ismael Toure], and then Jayden Adams, another key player suspended from the Orlando Pirates game, and Iqraam Rayners also injured.
“The positive side is that their absence gives other players opportunities and when you see players like Kyle Jurgens and Qobolwakhe Sibande play two games against Pirates and Sundowns and apply themselves, it’s good for their development but it doesn’t make our task easier.
“That said, I thought we started the game well and that we played the conditions decently. We denied Sundowns opportunities to score goals in the first half, at least in terms of not letting them get in behind like they normally do or into the box to create big chances. I thought we did well with that.
“And then to get the lead, I felt it might be one of those days where we could get something from it. We really planned well against them to make sure that from open play, we didn’t give them the spaces that suit the way they play and build up, trying to find their two 10s and then from there look to get forward.
“We did that really well, but then to concede from set-pieces is just not really what you want. You work so hard in open play to deny them and then concede from the corner and then the free-kick…
“I warned the players not to give silly free-kicks around the box because Sundowns are probably one of the best free-kick takers in the country and [Aubrey] Modiba, in the wind and the rain, took his goal really well.
“Then we sort of played out a second half where we weren’t really asking too many questions and they weren’t really either, or looking like they will extend their lead, until the last 20 minutes or so where we felt we had to make some changes and try some different things to freshen things up.
“That meant bringing on some very inexperienced players in Thulani Mini, Salifu Colley and Mervin Boji, and trying to press to get something from the game, but then obviously you look vulnerable in transition.
“That’s the risk you have to take to try and get back in the game and to maybe get a point at 2-2, you’d take that, but in seeking that you are chasing the game, and then we got hurt by the third goal, which was game over.
“In terms of application and commitment, I can’t fault the effort once again, but we just need to regroup and get back to Cape Town.”
While disappointed with recent results, Barker revealed that he was looking forward to having a fuller squad at his disposal for the upcoming fixtures and that his side would be going all out in the second quarter of the campaign.
“It’s been a tough two encounters [against Pirates and Sundowns this week] so it’s important to rest and re-energise,” he added. “Our suspensions are over now, and hopefully the injured players will be back by the next match which is a big one against TS Galaxy at home.
“I think in Q2, the next seven matches of the season, will be defining for us. They are games that we have to make sure we’re getting maximum points from as often as we can.”