The end of the season is just days away for most South African fans and their football clubs, but for three coastal teams the long journey only extends a little further.
Resident Absa Premiership side Santos, former top-flight outfit Thanda Royal Zulu and rookies Chippa United will all vie for top spot in the Promotion Play-offs over the next month.
The reward for the league-style competition, to be played on a home and away basis, is a place in the Premier League.
For Santos, the extra four matches will be construed as highly unnecessary, although it could have been much worse for the People’s Team.
They could so easily have been sucked into automatic relegation, which went to Jomo Cosmos instead, but they will still enter their opening match against Thanda in Richards Bay on Wednesday as the favourites to retain their status.
The men from Cape Town have been in the Premiership for over a decade and are even past champions having won the crown in 2001/02.
This year, their big problem started in mid-March when they began to suffer a hangover after ousting Orlando Pirates 3-0.
They subsequently lost five out of their next six league matches, including crucial ones against fellow relegation rivals, Black Leopards, Platinum Stars and Golden Arrows.
Dutchman Maart Nooij has since come in as their new coach and they will bring some confidence into the play-offs after an away draw to AmaZulu and a win against Cosmos in their last two games of the regular season.
Fellow Capetonians Chippa will enter the Play-offs as the form side having climbed from fifth in the National First Division at the start of the year to end in second.
In 2012, they lost just twice in 15 matches, while their season run in saw them win their last three games.
The Chilli Boys are not one with a big history – they are only in existence for three seasons after their owners bought the Second Division status of Paarl team Mbekweni Cosmos – and have never played in the top tier.
Their first match is also against Thanda when they will play host on Sunday.
Amabhubesi may well consider themselves as the underdogs for the Play-offs after sneaking into them via the back door over the weekend.
Neil Tovey’s men were highly fancied to win automatic promotion at the start of the campaign, but constantly faltered as their failure to score goals threatened to haunt them.
They only made it into the top three of the NFD after Blackburn Rovers were beaten by Bay United on Sunday and they themselves edged out champions University of Pretoria away from home.
Thanda, in existence as a franchise since 2006/07, were amongst the poorest scorers in the division with 34 goals in 30 games and had won just thrice in 13 games in 2012 prior to their last two league matches, both of which were won.
And they will be banking on that confidence and momentum when they host Santos in the Promotion Play-off opener.
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