Tadious Manyepo Sports Reporter
WHEN Herentals won promotion into the Premiership at the start of the 2018 season, the temptation would have been for them to dump their Division One star and replace them with players with Premiership experience.
But as the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League season came to an end on Saturday, Herentals had more to smile about at the end of their top-flight debut.
They closed the season with an emphatic 4-0 victory over relegated Shabanie at Maglas to finish sixth on the log table and crucially ahead of more seasoned campaigners like CAPS United, Dynamos, Black Rhinos, Harare City and ZPC Kariba.
The Harare outfit did not have to worry about the relegation matrix after a good return of 13 wins. 12 draws and nine defeats in their 34 matches.
They won three more games than Dynamos after the two sides had the same number of draws and they finished nine points ahead of the Harare giants who had 42 and settled for 11th place after being haunted by relegation worries for much of the season.
Apart from snubbing the largely nomadic seasoned players, Herentals even experimented with their 46-year old club proprietor, Innocent Benza whose only playing experience had been derived from a two-year Division One stint with the club.
But after posting an impressive 4-0 victory over relegated Shabanie on Saturday, Herentals sealed sixth place on the log and could have overtaken Highlanders had they scored a goal more in an afternoon they fluffed an array of chances.
They have finished the season above all capital city-based clubs including giants CAPS United and Dynamos.
The Herentals Group of Colleges-owned club were promoted into the top-tier along with Mutare City, Nichrut as well as Bulawayo City who have all been demoted after finding competition in the league too hot to handle.
Yet, Herentals coach Kumbirai Mutiwekuziva had shocked everyone including the team’s supporters when he announced in the pre-season that he was prepared to use the players who won him promotion into the league.
While three of the other promoted sides immediately became active on the market with Mutare City signing such high-profile players like Washington Pakamisa and Tafadzwa Dube, Mutiwekuziva remained adamant his greenhorns would save his side from relegation.
Although they started slowly, with a lack of experience instantly showing in their first Premiership match which they lost 0-2 away to runners-up Ngezi Platinum Stars, there was always a glimmer of hope.
This was because they looked jittery in the beginning such players like Jean Mutudza and Blessing Majarira had also shown the potential to improve.
It was not looking good at the mid-season break for the side who were sitting 13th on the log, with only two points above the drop zone.
At that point, they seemed to be solid relegation candidates and join a group also teams who came to the PSL, saw and got demoted again.
But Herentals came back from the break fired up.
Their second half of the season was bettered only by champions FC Platinum.
With one of the players being tipped for the Rookie of the Year award — Tino Benza, Warriors fringe player Richard Hachiro and Blessing Maunganidze enjoying good form, Herentals were good value for their money as they downed such high-ranking teams as Ngezi, Triangle as well as Black Rhinos and frustrated CAPS United in a fine second half of the season spell.
They lost just three times to Highlanders, Dynamos and FC Platinum.
Mutiwekuziva is now walking the proud step and attributed their decent run to sheer determination.
“When I said I will survive relegation with the team which took us into the top-flight, people thought we were kidding. Some even dismissed that as mere bar talk but see where we are now,” said Mutiwekuziva.
“I knew the players had the potential that’s why I gave them the chance to showcase their talent in the top-flight rather than trying to demotivate them by taking on board the so-called experienced players.
“We started the season slowly as the players still needed to battle nerves but we eventually found the groove especially in the second half of the season where we have lost just three games. Thumps up to the boys’’.
While Herentals are enjoying their place in the sun, it has been another frustrating year for the country’s traditional giants Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United.