The good times are back at Matlama

The good times are back at Matlama

MASERU – It seems the three-week Christmas break worked a charm for Matlama.

On Sunday, in their second outing after the festive pause, ‘Tse Putsoa’ claimed their biggest win of the season beating Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) 1-0 to climb to third spot on the Econet Premier League table.

The impressive victory followed a hard-fought draw with rivals Lioli a week earlier and, if nothing else, the results show Matlama will be a force to be reckoned with in the second half of the campaign under Mosito Matela.

This hasn’t always been the case for the Pitso Ground outfit in recent years. Just last season ‘Tse Putsoa’ crashed when it came to the business end of the season to finish a disappointing eighth. Matlama’s success starved fans spent December praying for better and the heartening start to 2018 comes after Matela was finally able to take a closer look at his squad during the festive recess.

Rebuilding confidence

Matela took over a struggling Matlama from Seephephe Matete at the end of September and never had the benefit of a full pre-season with his players.
So although he was able to inspire a turnaround of fortunes at the record ten-time champions, the Matlama coach didn’t have the opportunity to polish his squad to his liking because the season was already underway.

When he finally got the chance to work more intimately with his players during December’s end of year break, the first item he put on his do-to list was rebuilding the players’ confidence.

“The first thing I did was to look at the players I have and whether they are the type of players I need,” Matela said.
“The players had to believe in themselves,” he added.

“They had to believe that they are the right players, believe in what I want from them and then concentrate on their jobs.”
Matela was also able to identify which players fit his plans and begin to put his stamp on the squad. The major addition was the loan signing of Lesotho goalkeeper Kananelo Makhooane from Lioli to add valuable trophy-winning experience and competition for the precocious Monaheng Ramalefane.

Out went goalkeepers Newman Opara and Litšilo Litšilo, former captain Tšeliso Ramathe as well as promising youngsters Morena Mohlominyane, Rasetebele Kalosane and Selikoe Mokhothu.

Changing a team’s culture doesn’t happen overnight, but the first steps have been taken.
“What was more difficult for me is that I was not with them during the pre-season and I had them for a very short period of time,” Matela said.

“We revised the roles of the players on the pitch. Each player had to know where they play exactly and from that you are then able to form one team. The players are all on the same page right now.”

It is a good page.

After just one win in their opening four Econet Premier League matches, Matlama have risen to third with their only loss in the eight games under Matela coming at the hands of leaders Bantu in December.
Matela, a former Matlama defender who led Lesotho Mounted Police Service to a top-eight place last season, has unsurprisingly tightened the side’s defence.
Last month’s 4-2 defeat to Bantu aside, ‘Tse Putsoa’ have kept five clean-sheets since Matela arrived, the most in the league during that span.
The result: a team that finally has an identity and high spirits.
With the second round roaring into life this weekend, Matlama find themselves just three points behind second placed Lioli. In fact, with just a seven point deficit to leaders Bantu, Matlama may even be having day-dreams of challenging for the title.

The business end starts now

Before they get too far ahead of themselves, however, Matlama first have to take care of business on Saturday against Liphakoe. Matela is anticipating a tough encounter.
Liphakoe, like Matlama, like to control and dictate the game.
“The way Liphakoe play is a bit the same to the way we do. They play the ball and their coach (Motebang Makhetha) is one of the best,” Matela said.
Tactically, the vibrant Liphakoe also pose a much different threat to the mechanical style of LDF.

“What is important is how you have planned for the game. Are you able to manage their danger areas? Because you have to manage your opponents. It is important to know the kind of team you are facing, how they play, how they attack, where they more dangerous, because you can only win if you plan it well,” Matela said.

The only area that is giving Matela sleepless nights is his side’s offence. ‘Tse Putsoa’ have only scored 11 goals this season.
Only Lesotho Correctional Service, Sefotha-fotha, Likhopo and Sky Battalion have scored less. Three of those sides are in the bottom four.
“Not all the teams in the country right now are scoring a lot of goals,” Matela said. “Finishing is not something you can work on for a week and then proceed to something else; you work on it for the whole year.”

For now, though, things are finally rosy at Lesotho’s most successful club. Last Friday, Matela was awarded the Econet premiership coach of the month award for November.

“The awards motivated me and the players to work even harder even because it seems whatever they are doing is working,” Matela teased.
It looks like it is.

Matlama are third in the league, in with a shout of finishing even higher and looking forward to next month’s Lesotho National Insurance Group Top 8 tournament with new-found confidence.

After waiting since 2010 to win any silverware, maybe these are the first strides towards Matlama finally ending that drought.
But first, a long trip to Quthing on Sunday that will reveal a lot about this Matlama team.

Nkheli Liphoto

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