Lerotholi ………(1) 1
MASERU — Defending Vodacom Premier League champions Matlama crashed to a 1-0 defeat against Lerotholi in their season opener at Bambatha Tsita Sports Arena yesterday.
The spineless defeat showed all is not well in the Matlama camp following turmoil surrounding the fate of head coach Ntebele Taole.
Credit, however, must go to Lerotholi head coach Naleli Tšilo for coming up with an effective game plan — pressing and harassing the champions until they cracked.
The loss, a depressing result for the champions on the first day of the season, was not the main business for those with Matlama connections.
Instead it was the lack of effort from their players and the continuing soap opera surrounding Taole that should have bothered them.
Despite leading Matlama to the league and cup double last season, their first title in seven years, Taole was suspended under a cloud a fortnight ago.
This week, Matlama said Taole was back in charge.
This apparently was not the case.
Yesterday, Taole was nowhere near the bench.
Instead he was sitting in the terraces among Matlama fans.
Speaking to the Sunday Express after the game Taole said he was still to be officially approached by the Matlama management committee.
“I am still out,” Taole said.
“Since I was on suspension I have to be asked by the committee to come back. I can’t just show up.”
He said he was surprised to read in the media last week that his suspension had been lifted.
“I have not been told to return to the team,” Taole said.
Taole claims he was suspended for chasing away a player, Khotso Moketa, whom the club wanted to sign without his approval.
“There was no real reason why I was suspended,” Taole said.
“I asked him (Moketa) to leave but when it upset the committee I thought maybe they valued the player more than me, so I decided to step aside.
“I am willing to coach Matlama. When they call me I will go back.
“(But) I am not sure if they want me. It’s painful because I’m a Letlama by birth.”
Yesterday, Matlama assistant coaches Mokoena Mohale and Khotso Mokalanyane were in charge of the team when it succumbed to the morale-sapping defeat.
The turmoil in the Matlama camp was clearly visible from the lethargic displays by the players.
Rumours have been circulating that there are cliques within the team with some players refusing to train over the past week.
Some players are also said to be unhappy after the club said it was not going to pay them for winning the league last season.
Whatever the truth, the turmoil snowballed into what was one of Matlama’s worst performances in recent years.
A combination of an overconfident, laid-back approach saw Matlama concede the only goal of the match in the 16th minute when a sloppy pass from Thapelo Mokhehle eluded a half-asleep Pali Tšalong, allowing Lerotholi striker Limpho Seobi to score.
The decent Matlama crowd that turned out may have expected a response but it never came.
The only save of note Lihale keeper Tumelo Ntsoane had to make all match was in the 36th minute, when he saved with his legs from Lehlohonolo Mokhele’s shot.
Apart from that Matlama’s galaxy of stars generally looked unprepared and uninterested as symbolised perhaps by the hauling off midway through the second half of Tse Putsoa favourites Mokhele and Litšepe Marabe.
“Our players only started training this week,” Mokalanyane said after the match.
“Fokothi were better prepared than us and our players just didn’t play, especially in the first half.”
Predictably, with Matlama officials hovering around him like bloodthirsty sharks, Mokalanyane did not want to be drawn on the seemingly devastating coaching mayhem.
“I don’t want to comment on that, those issues belong to the management,” he said.