All the talk for the week has been about the 72nd episode of the Blantyre derby in league matches between crosstown rivals FCB Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Mukuru Wanderers at Kamuzu Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The difference this time around will be the number of games played by the two teams in the current season, with Bullets having three games in hand than their rivals, but they are level on 53 points going into this particular clash.
For Kalisto Pasuwa, the 2023 TNM Super League second-round derby is all about completing the job early so that they can focus on other competitions.
As for Mark Harrison, a win over his rival is a must knowing that he needs all the points to stop Bullets from early celebrations because anything other than a win would put to an end the championship race which has been very exciting this season.
It’s a clash with a lot at stake as the hosts and first-placed Bullets aim to defend the title for a fifth consecutive season, while Wanderers would want to continue mounting the title challenge though it is likely to be a tall order for them after dropping important points at home in games they were supposed to win.
The match will have bad consequences for the loser, especially if the loser is the blue side of the city.
The two teams have had some remarkable results in their last five to eight games. The People’s Team had an excellent league run in which they registered four wins out of their last five games, moving top of the table to date. They defeated Bangwe All Stars 1-0, Moyale Barracks 3-2, Chitipa United 2-0, and recently, Kamuzu Barracks 3-2.
In cup games, they successfully retained the FDH Bank Cup with a comfortable 3-0 hammering of Mafco FC, beat Civil Service United 2-0 in the first leg of the Airtel Top 8 Cup quarterfinal match before they lost the return leg 2-1 to proceed to the semis with a 3-2 goal aggregate.
They also advanced to the Castel Challenge Cup round of 32 with a 2-0 win over Division One side, Lipulumundu FC.
Overall, Maule scored 17 goals, conceded 7, and kept five clean sheets in their last nine games across all competitions. Seven of those goals were scored in league matches.
As for the opposition, they have had five league wins in eight matches, drawing twice and losing once, scoring 13 goals, conceding four and keeping three clean sheets.
In the Castel Challenge Cup, they hammered Katete Super Rangers 10-1 in the round of 64 to proceed to the last 32, where they left it late to beat FOMO FC 1-0.
In total, the Nomads have played ten games across all competitions, winning seven, scoring 23 goals, conceding five and keeping five clean sheets.
They are third in the standings with 53 points due to their inferior goals scored. Wanderers have a goal difference of 20 against Bullets’ 30, while the second-placed Silver Strikers, with the same number of points, have a GD of 22.
Since 2010, we have met Wanderers in the Blantyre derby 25 times in all competitions and Bullets have had the better of Wanderers nine times, with the blue camp winning five games while 11 ties have ended in stalemates and a total of 48 goals scored.
In our last two meetings in the league, an equalizer from Muhamad Sulumba with two minutes left to play brought back Wanderers to life after they staged a comeback to draw 3-3 at Kamuzu Stadium in the final half of last season. At some point, the match was 3-1 in favour of Bullets who were destined to collect all three points only for them to surrender their lead towards the end of the match.
In the ongoing season, the first-round match ended goalless despite being dominated by Wanderers who pressed from all angles and created lots of goal-scoring opportunities but fired blanks against a side that had no shot at goal.
For the past decade, Wanderers only registered victory over their bitter rivals once, a 1-0 triumph, courtesy of a first-half strike from Vincent Nyangulu in September of the 2020/21 season.
Victory for Bullets on Sunday afternoon will see them opening a three-point gap between themselves and their rivals, with three games in hand for The People’s Team, and this will probably put an end to an exciting championship race between all four contenders
Heading into this encounter, Wanderers have a remarkable defensive record by conceding 14 goals, one less than that of the log leaders who have seen 15 goals entering into their net.
However, Bullets have scored 45 league goals, 11 more than their rivals.
What’s at stake
Bragging rights and township supremacy are on the line in this derby, which divides not just Blantyre but the whole country down the middle. There is also the opportunity for many of the players and technical staff to write their personal history in this fixture.
Bullets are chasing their fifth successive TNM Super League title, whilst Wanderers, who last won the title in 2017, will be looking to keep their title hopes alive with a derby win.
Pasuwa will still be without several players due to injuries. Ephraim Kondowe, who is also suspended, and Gomezgani Chirwa, are the latest casualties on the injury list.
But the Zimbabwean has welcomed back defender Clyde Senaji and the midfield duo of Patrick Mwaungulu and Stanley Billiat to the squad following their recovery from injuries.
As for Harrison, he has every player at his disposal to choose from. He will also welcome Miracle Gabeya and Nyangulu, who missed last week’s win over Bangwe due to suspensions.
What the coaches said ahead of the derby
Pasuwa: “We have been preparing ourselves after the midweek game that we played against the unknown team [Lipulumundu Stars] from Mangochi. But you saw yourself that it’s a small team [on paper], but the mindset made them play well against us. If you take any side to be a small team, you will have problems, and that’s the mindset that we have been giving our players when we are playing Wanderers.
“And I think it’s better to play Wanderers than these other unknown teams because we know them, they are our rivals. We played on Wednesday, recovered on Thursday, and regrouped on Friday. We collected some of the mistakes that we made against Lipulumundu for us to perfect everything against Wanderers. From the mindset that I have seen in my players, they are looking ready for the match.”
Harrison: “We look focused and ready, we are aware that it is a massive game and probably a championship decider for us. We need to enter the game with a positive frame of mind to get a positive result. If we can get three points then pressure back to Bullets. We got everything to play for and I have told my players to be positive and bring the result.”
How to follow the game
After officiating our encounter against Wanderers in the opening round of the campaign, Mwayi Msungama returns as the centre referee at Kamuzu Stadium on Sunday, his second Blantyre derby in charge.
Referee: Mwayi Msungama
Assistant Referee 1: Pondamali Tembo
Assistant Referee 2: Mussa Grant
Fourth Official: Zebron Lengani
Match Assessor: Michael Makoto