A FEW months ago, a clash between Dynamos and Highlanders would have generated very little interest. The country’s oldest, biggest and most supported clubs were going through their most difficult times in years.
BY HENRY MHARA/FORTUNE MBELE
Results were hard to come by for both teams who were struggling at the wrong end of the log standings. Their supporters, often known to be passionate and fanatical, were losing any interest, and the attendance numbers at the two teams’ matches were dwindling.
The poor start to the season cost the two club coaches their jobs.
First to go was Dynamos’ affable Lloyd “Mablanyo” Chigowe and later to be followed by Madinda Ndlovu who stretched his fans’ patience.
Chigowe was replaced by Tonderai Ndiraya in April, and remarkably, results began to come.
Since his appointment, Dynamos has only lost once in the league, against Highlanders, and at one point looked like they would fight for the title. They have been recording draws of late, a lot of them for that matter. They have recorded seven draws in a row, but their supporters are not really complaining. The supporters argue that their team’s style of play is refreshing, and pleasing to the eye.
For Highlanders, its resurgence since the arrival of coach Hendrikus Pieter de Jongh has been even more dramatic.
The Dutchman arrived when the Bulawayo giants were struggling in the relegation zone, and facing a real possibility of getting demoted at the end of the season.
In the six matches that he has been in charge, Highlanders have won four and drew two. Add the victories over Dynamos and FC Platinum in the Chibuku Super Cup matches to that.
From relegation strugglers, Bosso are now somewhere near where they should be on the log standings. Following their 3-1 win over Yadah on Thursday, they moved to sixth on the log standings, and their fans are dreaming once again.
More importantly, De Jongh has brought enthusiasm and gusto back in the Highlanders squad. It looks blissful in their camp, and their fans are happy again.
“Morale is high in camp. We are in the right direction,” de Jongh said ahead of the two teams’ clash at Rufaro Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
“We are hoping to end the season in a good position. I have said before that a top four or five is looking possible or even if we finish top eight we would have done a good job,” reckons the Dutchman.
De Jongh has already tested the feeling of being in the dugout for Highlanders versus Dynamos, arguably the biggest match on the local football calendar.
His first game in charge of Highlanders was against Dynamos in the Chibuku Super Cup match at the end of September, a match his team won 1-0.
He felt in love with the atmosphere, which he has likened to the El Classico, the battle royale between Spanish powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid.
“I know how this is like. It is a big match for the two clubs and the fans. This one looks like a Barcelona and Real Madrid clash or Bayern Munich against (Borussia) Dortmund. The second game might not be like the first that we won but anything is possible. We go there for one result (which is to win) but it is not going to be easy,” De Jongh said.
The two teams are currently tied on 39 points, and the winner will likely move into the top four. So besides the bragging rights that go with winning this clash, getting all three points would be massive in the context of the movement on the log standings.
Highlanders will go into the match without their star striker Prince Dube, the man who scored the only goal of the game the last time these two teams met.
He is out due to suspension. While De Jongh would have liked his star forward to be available, it’s highly unlikely that he would miss him that much.
In Dube’s absence on Thursday against Yadah, Highlanders still scored three goals with Mbongeni Ndlovu, Godfrey Makaruse and Tinashe Makanda all on the score sheet.