Lack of depth cost Stellies in the long run, says Barker

Stellenbosch FC coach Steven Barker. | BackpagePix

Stellenbosch FC coach Steven Barker. | BackpagePix

Published May 27, 2024


Smiso Msomi

STELLENBOSCH FC head coach Steve Barker has pointed to his side’s lack of depth as the main reason behind their capitulation in the final stretch of the season.

Stellies recorded their third consecutive defeat as they went down to Richards Bay FC on the final day of the campaign and therefore missed out on an opportunity to play in next season’s CAF Champions.

Barker’s men were pipped by Orlando Pirates, who secured a valuable point against SuperSport United, and dropped to third on the DStv Premiership standings, which means they’ll ply their trade in the CAF Confederation Cup.

Richards Bay celebrate scoring against Stellenbosch at the weekend. Despite beating Stellies, the Natal Rich Boys will contest the PSL promotion/relegation play-offs later this week. | BackpagePix

The Western Cape-based outfit undoubtedly had their best season since their inception in 2016 as they strung together an impressive 25-game unbeaten run to place themselves in the driving seat to compete with the continent’s elite clubs.

They also collected their first major top-flight trophy as they lifted the 2023 Carling Knockout Cup in December. However, their failure to see out what seemed to be an even better season saw questions being posed to Barker at the conclusion of their campaign on Saturday.

The experienced mentor told the media in attendance in uMlazi that his team had learnt valuable lessons, the biggest being the importance of quality in depth.

“It’s four games for us if you include the draw against AmaZulu, so that's one point from the last 12 available, (which) is not going to help you achieve your targets. But I think it’s a simple fact – we have a very thin squad in terms of numbers,” he said.

He added: “I think after you go on such a long unbeaten run and then you lose it, we had two exhausting games against (Mamelodi) Sundowns in both the cup and the league. Our worst game was probably against Swallows and that was the killer blow.

“I think fatigue (played a huge role), both mental and physical, placed a lot of strain on the players. It is not a position we are used to being in, it’s a different type of pressure, good pressure, and one that we must embrace.”

Goalkeeper Sage Stephens of Stellenbosch FC denies the attack of Richards Bay at King Zwelithini Stadium. | BackpagePix

The Cape Winelands-based club have already begun their preparations for the second tier of continental club competition as a means to equip themselves adequately for what they expect to be a daunting 2024/25 campaign.

Despite the disappointing end to their season, Barker refused to be the facilitator of a pity party for his young group.

The 56-year-old coach waved away any suggestions that his side would have preferred facing lower-tier opposition on the continent, before expressing his immense pride in what Stellenbosch had achieved as an organisation.

“We would love to play among the elite, but as a club we’ve won the (DStv) Diski Challenge, we have a cup and are heading for Africa. We can't allow four games to define our season,” he said.

“Once we get over this result, we've got to look back at what we’ve achieved and should we find ourselves in a similar position to the one we were in this final month, I think the lessons we’ve learnt this time around should guide us as to how we deal with them next time.”

With Stellenbosch’s season wrapped up, a few of their players will hope to stay in action in the coming weeks after being named in Bafana Bafana’s provisional squad for the upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

The likes of Jayden Adams, Deano van Rooyen, Devin Titus, Thabo Moloisane and Iqraam Rayners will be holding their breath ahead of the final squad announcement.