Platinum set to consolidate dominance as traditional giants falter

The action resumes in the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League this weekend following the mid-season break, with champions FC Platinum looking to consolidate their hold on top spot with a tenth victory in 11 matches when they host ZPC Kariba on Saturday.

Second-placed Ngezi Platinum Stars, meanwhile, have a perfect opportunity to end a disastrous three-match losing streak when they visit promoted Herentals .

The title contest is already shaping into a two-horse race, as the Platinum sides gradually peel off from the rest of the field in what could mark a change of guard at the pinnacle of Zimbabwean league football.

CAPS United, the best placed of the league's traditional big three, sit a whopping 14 points adrift of the log leaders in fourth and face a tricky tie on Saturday against Mark Harrison's well-oiled Harare City.

Highlanders, for their part, have faded out of the title talk after managing just three wins over the last 10 matches and will look to reignite their campaign with an away win against Black Rhinos.

The toughest assignment of the weekend is reserved for troubled giants Dynamos, who welcome third-placed Chicken Inn to the Rufaro Stadium desperate to prolong a rare two-match winning streak which has provided them with a lifeline following a horrendous spell.

All things considered though, the second half of the season should confirm the reality that the balance of power in the local league is gradually shifting, with a trio of upstarts apparently possessing both the wherewithal and the ambition needed for sustained success.

Platinum and Ngezi, both owned by giant mining houses, are unrivalled in their pulling power for top talent.

On the other hand, Chicken Inn, the 2015 champions, may not be as well resourced financially but their organisational acumen has enabled them to remain competitive.

Inevitably, the big three have been left to content with the humbling reality that the days of total dominance are all but gone.

Granted, CAPS and Highlanders have occasionally shown signs of life this term, but their efforts have fallen desperately short, with both struggling for the kind of consistency needed to sustain a title charge.

Dynamos, for the most part, have remained bedridden, and their case is compounded by an apparent lack of direction at boardroom level.

So, is the stage set for an absorbing title duel between Ngezi and Platinum?

That can only materialise if the former avoid any further slip-ups after falling six points behind their rivals going into the midseason break.

Ngezi had looked unstoppable for much of the first half of the campaign, impressing at both ends of the pitch as goalkeeper Bernard Donovan emerged as the best in the league with nine clean sheets while forward Terrence Dzvukamanja topped the goal charts on eight strikes.

Around the two quality prospects is a team of grafters who worked themselves to a standstill as Ngezi made it 14 matches unbeaten at the start of the campaign.

That now seems ages ago, and Tonderai Ndiraya's men have struggled to rediscover their self-belief since going down 1-0 to Bulawayo City on matchday 15 for their first loss of the season.

Anything other than a win against Herentals on Saturday would further dent their self-belief, and hand Platinum the chance to increase their six-point lead at the top.

Platinum are themselves heavily favoured to brush off 10th-placed Kariba, coincidentally the last team to beat them at home way back in November of 2016.

The champions have impressed with their consistency since the beginning of the season after rectifying their shortcomings in front of goal.

A lack of sharpness upfront nearly derailed Platinum's title campaign last season, but there have been no such concerns this time around, with veteran Mkhokheli Dube, winger Ali Sadiki, Gift Mbweti, Farai Madhananga and Rodwell Chinyetere all weighing with crucial goals.

Platinum have scored 27 in their 17 matches, one fewer than Ngezi, who top the goal charts. In addition, Mapeza's team still boast the most efficient defence after conceding just five goals.

After the clash against Kariba, Platinum visit Yadah before hosting CAPS United in a matchday 20 fixture set to further test their readiness to go all the way again this term.