United, on 38 points, need a victory against leaders Bay (39) to regain the lead of the Coastal Stream in the second-last match of the season. The winners of stream play the victors of the Inland Stream in the NFD final for one automatic promotion place to the Premier Soccer League.
Sithole (22), has impressed with his tidy, steady goalkeeping since joining United from Pretoria University at the beginning of the season.
_quote“We can win the game if we stay focused and keep working the way we have been,” the Zimbabwean told snl24.com/kickoff’s Marc Strydom yesterday of Saturday’s crucial encounter.
Sithole - who has the experience of playing in the First Division play-offs with Pretoria last season, which will stand him in good stead on Saturday - played down the importance of the game against Bay.
“The play-offs last year were bigger than this. This is just one more league game - it’s not a cup final or a play-off game. Having played in the play-offs, it probably does give me a slight advantage in dealing with the pressure.”
The keeper did admit, though, that the match that is sure to decide which of Bay and Maritzburg reach the NFD final is more significant than most league games. A victory to Bay will guarantee the PE team a place in the final.
“You can’t run away from it - this is a big game. Both teams have already qualified for the play-offs, and this game will determine who will go into the final to play for an automatic promotion place.
“Which is what the players really want to do - we would rather play in the final than in the play-offs. It has been really hard work for the players getting to where we are.
“We had that 13-match unbeaten run from the start of the season, and then, like any team, went into a slump. But it is how you stand up after you fall down that is most important, and we are so close now that we have to take our chance.”
And as the goalkeeper, Sithole’s performance could be crucial.
“Of course, I am the last line of defence. At United, though, we work as a team, and we have worked that way all season. But individual performances can also count, especially if you are a goalkeeper.”