Steve Barker tempers talk of Stellenbosch FC title challenge

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Stellenbosch FC coach Steve Barker has tempered talk of a title challenge after downing the previously unbeaten Royal AM on Saturday.

Stellenbosch FC maintained their unbeaten start to the 2022/23 DStv Premiership season after recording a comprehensive 3-1 home win over Royal AM at the Danie Craven Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Steve Barker's side opened the scoring as early as the second minute of the encounter when Bafana Bafana international headed home a cross from Júnior Mendieta to net his first senior goal for the club.

Stellies double their advantage shortly after the half-time interval though an own goal by Ricardo Nascimento before youngster Andries Oshwin, fresh from being named Man of the Match on his full debut against Orlando Pirates, rounded off the scoring for his side.

Andre De Jong pulled one back for the visitors late on but by then the writing was on the wall for a Royal AM side who had entered the weekend as the only team to have won their opening two matches of the season.

"We want to make Danie Craven a fortress..."

"I'm absolutely delighted with the win," Barker said after the match. "We want to make Danie Craven a fortress, a difficult place to come to. I always said in the past that it was a house, it wasn't a home yet because we were missing the fans and without the fans it didn't have the warmth and the love.

"But since the fans have returned, we've had a good run here, having beaten Kaizer Chiefs and Cape Town City, and drawn with Maritzburg United and Orlando Pirates and now we have another win. I'm hoping the stadium can continue to be a happy place for us, a place where we can really maximise and get as many points as possible.

"I thought the performance was superb, the energy and work-rate of the team, the execution of the game plan. We've now played two good footballing teams and we've denied them the way they want to play with the energy and the pressing and executing of the game plan well.

"I thought our first and our third goal were of high quality. The pass to Mendieta, his cross and the header from Van Wyk (for the opener) and then obviously the third goal with Andries winning it, carrying it, giving it to Mendieta, receiving it and scoring.

"I'm very pleased with the performance. It's important that we remain grounded and humble. It is still very early days in the season but one can a lot of confidence and a lot of heart from this performance."

Check out Stellenbosch FC's new home & away kits for the 2022/23 season

The victory fired Stellenbosch up to third position in the league standings, pending other results elsewhere, but head coach Barker was quick to temper talk of a title challenge, calling instead for sustained consistency over the course of the season.

"No, I wouldn't say that," Barker said when asked if Saturday's victory made him consider his side as early title contenders. "To get back to back wins in this league is already difficult and with Royal AM having already won two, and then coming to Cape Town, it was never going to be easy to get three in a row.

"I felt before the game that if we play to our potential that we would have a chance. I might sound like a stuck recording but we are a club that has laid good foundations and we just want to continue improving and growing.

"I think you can see that we are reaping the rewards from the youngsters we've invested in, a lot of them are coming through, playing, sitting on the bench and being part of the squad.

"As long as we keep progressing, eventually we will be a team that can challenge so I am looking forward to the team being consistent. That's our biggest buzzword for this season, is consistency. We had good consistency last season, so can we take that further?

"Consistency is our biggest buzzword this season..."

"For example, on Wednesday we had a big performance [against Pirates], but could we replicate that in a game with less fans and no TV? With what they showed today, they can be very proud of being up for the game and showing the consistency that we showed."

Stellenbosch's victory on Saturday saw the club claim a modicum of revenge over Royal AM after seeing their opponents pip them to third place on the log standings last season, by virtue only of goal difference, on the final day of the season.

The Cape Winelands-based side ultimately ended the domestic campaign in a club-record fourth position on 47 points ahead of Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, who ranked fifth and sixth, respectively.