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UPL: Villa firm on title run-in

Express FC’s Steven Ssenfuma (L) and SC Villa’s Hakim Kiwanuka

Express FC’s Steven Ssenfuma (L) and SC Villa’s Hakim Kiwanuka

This Holy week is expected to be riveting with probably the best lineup of games in the StarTimes Uganda Premier League (SUPL).

The top two sides, Kitara FC and Bul FC face-off in Masindi on Good Friday. SC Villa have a potential banana skin lying in wait in the shape of Mbarara City at Wankulukuku stadium. While for Vipers SC, it will be all about restoring their flagging title defence possibilities, when they visit URA FC at the MTN Omondi stadium on Holy Saturday.

Relatively, there are eight rounds of fixtures left, meaning that the 2023/24 SUPL season is entering its final bend, a clear indication of how much the pressure is on.

NO PRESSURE

However, for SC Villa’s Serbian tactician Dusan Stojanovic, there is no such thing as pressure on his side, as they get into the business title run-in phase of the league. Instead, he said, they are enjoying it and looking forward to every forthcoming game.

In a recent interview, Stojanovic started off by saying: “We cannot have pressure, let alone be worried about what is to come. You can only have pressure if you doubt your potential and ability. That is what I believe.”

It is quite odd to see Stojanovic unfazed, considering that the Jogoos, a team that he has handled since July 2023, have not won a league title since 2004. Add the fact that their 16-time champions record is being closed down on by KCCA FC, who are on 13 championships. In addition, having come within a win to claim last season’s championship, the blue army are quite expectant and are hungry for success.

The league trophy drought has gone on too long. In light of that, Stojanovic, 42, added: “We at Villa know how big a brand this club is. But at the same time, let us not forget that we have so many new and young players, whom we are building to become stars that can return this club to its greatness.”

Up to this point, something that was never related to Villa, say, three years ago, is the fact that they have been regarded by many as arguably the best football playing side in the league. On top of that, they have good control of games, and defended doggedly, giving away few chances to opponents.

Incidentally, Stojanovic believes in an offensive and possession-based game. He argues that you can only outscore your opponent by keeping the ball away from them and attacking them relentlessly. They remain the only unbeaten side away from home. In fact, Villa create numerous scoring chances, although many times they are let down by poor finishing.

While, they have the meanest defence with 13 conceded because of the uncompromising nature of their youthful defenders like Arnold Odong, Edward Masembe and Cyrus Kibande, Villa rank fifth in scoring.

WINNING MENTALITY

Villa has played 19 games, two less than the table leaders Kitara. Yet, if they win both their games in hand, they will come to within one point of Kitara. Inevitably, there is every reason for the Villa faithful to be upbeat about what could be.

Villa’s two recent 1-0 wins against Express FC and Bul FC (albeit with 10 men, which included saving a penalty) has suggested that maybe lack is on their side, too.

Add the fact that Villa were in a losing position against Kitara on match-day 17, yet managed to score an equaliser on 84 minutes. Defensive midfielder Misi Semugera highlighted the fact that Stojanovic’s calmness on the bench, but also interesting sessions, has given them a “never-say-die attitude.”

Notably, Stojanovic has successfully built on what his predecessor, Jackson Magera built last season even though key players left before he arrived. Stojanovic has instilled a winning mentality but it strictly focuses on the next game. Stojanovic is against talking the title just yet, but he hopes they can win every remaining game starting with Mbarara this weekend.

It is the small teams like Mbarara (whom they drew with 0-0 in the first round) that derailed Villa last season. Maybe they should never have gone into the final day needing a victory. Losing to Maroons FC and Arua Hill was the case. This time, in the nine games Villa has to play, therein lies URA FC, Vipers and even KCCA. These are tough opponents.

But like Stojanovic noted, one thing is for certain: death. What is the worst that can happen to him and his boys than death? Nothing, he said. Last season’s failure will not matter now, and all they have to do is give the best of themselves, as they have done so far, to enjoy the title run-in!

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