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Opponents watch: Karonga vs Bullets

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Following our hard-fought 3-2 victory over Blue Eagles in the Airtel Top 8 Cup semi-final on Sunday, FCB Nyasa Big Bullets proceeded to the North for the midweek TNM Super League tie against Karonga United.

The Wednesday afternoon outing at Karonga Stadium is a potential league-deciding match as all three points will take the defending champions closer to a fifth successive title.

It has been a difficult period for Kalisto Pasuwa’s charges, who have only managed to get two wins in the last seven matches across all domestic competitions.

In the league, Bullets are yet to register a win since their last victory over Kamuzu Barracks on 25 October, followed by three straight draws against Mighty Mukuru Wanderers, Red Lions and Blue Eagles, before losing away to Dedza Dynamos last Thursday.

Wednesday’s fixture will allow Bullets to make amends and possibly wrap up their league campaign before facing Silver Strikers on Sunday, the final day of the 2023 TNM Super League season.

Ahead of the showdown away in Karonga, we look at how our next opponents have fared in the second round of this term.

Trevor Kajawa’s men started the second-round campaign with a 2-0 loss at the hands of their rivals Chitipa United at Karonga Stadium, a venue they share.

They bounced back in the following week with a 2-1 away win over Kamuzu Barracks at Civo Stadium, a result that was needed for them to move up in the standings.

These positive results started coming in after they named Kajawa as an interim coach.

Next on the menu was a home assignment against Moyale Barracks in which they comfortably beat the soldiers from Mzuzu 2-0.

But Karonga couldn’t maintain their good home run as they were held to a goalless draw by Blue Eagles before returning to winning ways with a 2-0 win over the bottom-placed and now-relegated Extreme FC.

They travelled to Blantyre to face Wanderers at Kamuzu Stadium. Despite taking an early lead, they couldn’t contain the Nomads who made a comeback 2-1 win, after the home team scored the winning goal late in the match.

On their way to Karonga, they stopped at Dedza Stadium and Civo Stadium.

They first frustrated Dedza Dynamos, who took a first-half 2-0 lead before surrendering it to Kajawa’s men in the last minutes of the tie to draw 2-2.

Against Civil Service United, they also staged a late comeback to force a 1-1 stalemate.

Kajawa’s men had a rude awakening when they threw away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to Red Lions, who scored their three goals in the last five minutes of the match.

They bounced back with their biggest win of the season when they thrashed Ekwendeni Hammers 4-1 at their base before a goalless draw against Silver Strikers the following week.

United were 2-0 winners over Mafco FC to cement their position in the top eight.

Their last match before hosting us was against Mighty Tigers in Blantyre where they lost 1-0.

In total, Kajawa’s men have so far collected 19 points in the second half of the campaign from the possible 39, scoring 18 goals and conceding 12. They are sitting in the 8th position with 37 points from 28 games.

Their dangerous men

The Karonga-based side has scored 34 goals in their 28 games. They have three different scorers with six goals each. Mwiso Youngson, Elie Kayombo and Josiah Duwa have found the back of the net six times, while Allen Chihana and Davie Tobias have scored four goals each.

These players have scored most of their goals at Karonga Stadium. Despite playing on a hard and bumpy surface, Wednesday’s hosts are very familiar and flexible with their playing field, making it very difficult for visiting teams to settle down or play their usual games.

Duwa is a master of scoring from set pieces, while Youngson knows how to position himself inside the penalty area where he can simply pounce. He is also deadly in the air, and he needs extra attention whenever they are attacking or playing set pieces.

Chihana has pace and can create spaces for fellow attackers to pounce on their opponents. He is good with his foot and he can also create shooting spaces for himself.

How they play at home

Due to the condition of Karonga Stadium, it’s almost impossible to play a passing game. As a result, they mostly use secondary balls where the ball spends more time in the air than on the ground.

As such, they give no space to the visiting team to enjoy the match as they close down spaces and hit them with numerous counter-attacking football by sending the ball behind their opponents’ blind side.

They force their opponents to commit errors or set pieces and capitalize on those situations. It is paramount to restrict them from winning more set pieces in the offensive zones.

How they have performed against us at home

Since 2019, they have won once, beating us 1-0 in the 2020/21 Covid-19 stricken season.

In the following year, we played out to a frustrating goalless draw in a match in which Bullets dominated and created plenty of goal-scoring chances Pasuwa’s men couldn’t bury.

When it comes to frustrating opponents, especially the top four teams, the Bullets have had more frustrating moments at Karonga Stadium.

Karonga also have a good record of not losing more games in their backyard. In the current campaign, they have only lost four times to Bangwe All Stars, Chitipa United, Mighty Mukuru Wanderers and Red Lions.

Home fans

Like the previous seasons, Pasuwa’s charges should anticipate a very hostile environment from the home fans who mostly dawn the blue and white colours.

Karonga United followers are vocal and relentless, and they don’t back down so easily regardless of their opposition. They make every visiting team uncomfortable throughout the match.

With pressure mounting on Bullets, the defending champions need to repeat what they did in 2018 when they collected maximum points at a time when the title race was hitting up and against all odds, they beat Chitipa United in the first match before beating Wednesday’s opposition.

The People’s Team are known to be the masters of delivering results when it matters most, and Wednesday’s match is no exception as they need all the points to ease the title race pressure as second-placed Silver Strikers and Wanderers, who are third in the standings hope to snatch the title away from the Malawi champions.

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