Rollers hit turbulence after tumbling out of Top 8
By Bakang Mhaladi
GABORONE – Botswana’S glamour club, Township Rollers, hit rough waters over the weekend after tumbling out of a second major tournament within seven days.
Only two weeks ago, Rollers, the country’s most successful team, was battling on three fronts, chasing progress in the CAF Champions League, glory in the Mascom Top 8 as well as defending their league title.
But after a heartbreaking two weekends, they find themselves banking on defending their league title where they have slipped to second place behind surprise leaders, Jwaneng Galaxy.
First, Rollers succumbed to Madagascar side, CNaPs, in the preliminary round before Orapa United ensured there was no early parole for The Blues, comprehensively bundling them out of the Mascom Top 8 on Sunday.
Now Rollers, which rewards its players handsomely and enjoys healthy financial backing from businessman, Jagdish Shah, is staring into an abyss.
Coach, Mogomotsi ‘Teenage’ Mpote, a mid-season replacement for Mark Harrison, who left to join Baroka in South Africa’s ABSA Premiership, has called for calm amid the swelling storm.
“We spoke to the players and told them we still have something to play for this season. I have to make sure that all my players are in the right spirit,” Mpote said, urging supporters not to panic.
But Mpote is acutely aware of the damage that has been done with Rollers suffering a 4-1 aggregate loss to Orapa over two legs and appearing lifeless in the reverse fixture on Sunday.
While it was Rollers chasing the tie, Madinda Ndlovu’s Orapa instead turned the screws inside the opening 20 minutes, killing off the tie after a neat turn and finish from Zimbabwean midfielder, Tendai Nyumasi.
Orapa went further ahead in the second half through Omaatla Kebatho before Senegalese Pape Ndaw provided scant consolation with a late goal.
Despite Mpote choosing to remain calm, behind closed doors the management is perusing the mangled rubble of a promising campaign that has turned into a nightmare.
Mpote’s team selections were the talk of town long after the Orapa celebrations had died down, with his future uncertain. He is on a short-term deal until the end of the season, but might have authored his dismissal letter with unconvincing performances. There is no respite for Rollers, who are scheduled to take on Orapa in a league match away at the Itekeng fortress in Orapa this weekend.
Meanwhile, Orapa United progressed to a historic final with fellow diamond miners, Jwaneng Galaxy, whose date is yet to be decided.
Galaxy, in their debut appearance in the Top 8 competition, saw off fighting army boys, BDF XI, after a thrilling 3-3 draw meant the miners progress 4-3 on aggregate.
However, there was a damper to the weekend action after popular giants; Extension Gunners lost their chairperson, Phenyo Gothaang, in a freak road accident on Saturday afternoon.