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Opponents watch: Red Lions vs Bullets

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We continue with our search for a fifth TNM Super League title in a row with another crucial fixture against Red Lions at Balaka Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

This is one of the two arranged fixtures for the defending champions within five days as Bullets will proceed to Lilongwe to take on Blue Eagles on Sunday.

But first thing first, let’s take a look at how our Wednesday opponents have fared, especially in the second round as the 2023 season is slowly going to an end.

The Zomba-based side, with a history of being relegated to the second tier of the Southern Region Football League, started their 2023 campaign on a poor note as they only collected a point from their opening five games.

There were no signs of improvement as the team kept on struggling for points regardless of where they were playing.

The Lions of Zomba finished the first round in the bottom three, and heads had to roll when Franco Ndawa replaced Mike Kumanga in an attempt to save the sinking ship.

Despite changes in the technical panel, the soldiers kept on struggling and continued dropping points even at home.

The situation has been the same in the last ten games in which they have collected seven points from the possible 30, sitting in 15th position with just 28 points from 28 games.

The first of the last ten games was a trip to Blantyre where they forced Mighty Mukuru Wanderers to a 1-1 draw.

Many thought this was the beginning of something good for the military side, but they lost seven of their next nine games.

The Reds were beaten 2-0 by Dedza Dynamos at Dedza Stadium before losing to Mafco FC 2-1 at Balaka Stadium the following week.

They travelled to Blantyre to play Mighty Tigers at Mpira Stadium. A lone strike was enough to inspire Tigers to a hard-fought win over the struggling Zomba-based side.

Ndawa’s side next played Bangwe All Stars and the rookies showed them no mercy, beating the soldiers 2-0 to worsen their situation in the fight against relegation.

They hosted Blue Eagles in their next fixture. The soldiers were neatly beaten by the Area police by a 2-0 margin.

The more they recorded endless defeats, the more they reduced their survival chances.

Red Lions then travelled to Karonga for two assignments as the battle for points intensified for the bottom five teams.

They were on the verge of collecting a point against Chitipa United before conceding from the spot with two minutes left to play.

Their final match in Karonga was against Karonga United, in which Ndawa’s charges produced a stunning comeback to score three goals in the last five minutes of the game to win 3-2.

This result boosted their survival chances and hoped to continue from where they stopped to move out of the drop zone.

But Kamuzu Barracks taught them some footballing lessons right there at Balaka Stadium.

Their brothers-in-arms collected all the points, beating them 2-0, further reducing their survival chances as they were now remaining with four games, but there was no meaningful movement in the standings.

Next, Red Lions played out to a goalless draw away to Civil Service United.

Despite beating Extreme FC and Ekwendeni Hammers 2-1 and 1-0 in their latest two encounters, the clock is still ticking against the 15th-placed Lions as they will now host the defending champions on Wednesday afternoon.

The soldiers have conceded 17 goals, scoring nine and kept two clean sheets in the last 12 games.

They found themselves in a similar situation when they were looking for a win against Bullets to survive relegation five years ago when The People’s Team wasted no time in scoring three goals and sending them to the ThumbsUp Southern Region League before bouncing back at the end of the 2019 season.

Red Lions’ scorers

Looking at the log table, the Soldiers haven’t done well in terms of scoring, hence having multiple scorers in their 21 goals scored this season.

Brown Gondwe, Humphrey Minandi, Deus Mkutu, James Gondwe, Dave Meja, Moses Nankumba and Mike Kaziputa are some of the notable scorers for the struggling side.

They have conceded the highest number of goals, 42, than any other side in the 16-member league, seconded by the relegated Extreme FC, who have let in 40 goals

Attacking threats

From the statistics, they are one of the three lowest-scoring teams in the league. With 21 goals to their name in 28 games, it means they haven’t been doing enough in attack. They mostly use aerial balls, and when restricted, they struggle because they don’t have ball players who would advance into the opponents’ half and create spaces for the strikers to score.

Thus, if tightly marked, the chances of them finding the back of the net from transition into spaces is very minimal.

Red Lions mostly create their chances through dead-ball situations because they have Mkutu, who is good at pouncing on the opposition using his height advantage.

Their form against Bullets at Balaka Stadium

Since 2018, Bullets has had two victories at Balaka Stadium in succession. The People’s Team hammered them 3-0 that year to send them to the Premier Division of the Southern Region League.

Four years later, Bullets were 2-0 winners over the soldiers at Wednesday’s venue.

The history between the two sides is very long with significant impact. In the previous season, Bullets collected six points over the military side, who lost 2-0 in the first round at Balaka Stadium before losing 3-1 at Kamuzu Stadium.

The last time Bullets lost to Red Lions was in 2013 when the soldiers won 2-0 at Zomba Community Center Ground.

But since then, it has been Bullets dominating in all the matches, including cup games.

On Wednesday, Bullets will be aiming to avoid complacency at the hands of a team which will give it all to boost their survival chances ahead of their final game away to Moyale Barracks.

In the first round, Bullets smashed Red Lions 4-0 courtesy of a strike each from Lanjesi Nkhoma, Anthony Mfune, Stanley Billiat and Precious Sambani.

Their weaknesses

They have rigidity in defence, something that has seen them conceding goals, especially when they face a high-pressing team with pacey wingers.

Our midweek opponents cannot defend for too long against quick and ruthless wingers. Counter-offensive football from opponents normally forces them to commit errors inside the penalty box, something that has seen teams capitalizing on.

They are also not good at dealing with set pieces. Smart wingers have pounced on them as they always struggle to deal with secondary balls from setpieces closer to their goal area.

By looking at the number of goals scored, they are also struggling in front of goal.

They don’t have a regular scorer, and when tightly marked, the chances of them not finding the back of the net are always high.

Strength

They have a good goalkeeper in Nenani Juwaya even though the team has conceded more goals. He is a shot-stopper who, on a good day, can frustrate the opposition. He needs special attention, especially in a one-on-one situation. He is very good at stopping goal-bound shots in such situations.

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