With 10 rounds of fixtures remaining before the NFD campaign wraps up, the pretenders are gradually making way for the serious contenders in the race for promotion.
While the tide seemed to be turning for Ajax Cape Town, the fortunes of one-time high-flyers Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila and TS Sporting suddenly tumbled.
All three sides will be in action this afternoon in fixtures that will continue to shape their season as the race for promotional berths intensifies.
The champions earn automatic promotion, and the runners-up and a third-placed side contest the play-off with the premier division team that finishes 15th.
Ajax will host Tshakhuma in the Mother City, while Sporting are at home to Maccabi FC, another team that has suddenly endured a free fall despite a promising start in their debut season.
All four have undergone coaching changes in recent months, but Ajax seems to have responded positively to the transformation of the team after Muhsin Ertugral.
The Turk resigned in November and was replaced by Andries Ulderink, who, having taken the Urban Warriors away from the bottom of the table to be one of the serious contenders, has proved to be the real deal.
Boasting players with top-flight football experience such as defender Isaac Nhlapo, the Capetonians’ chase for an immediate return to the Premiership seems possible.
Under Ulderink, Ajax have enjoyed a winning streak, interrupted only by leaders Stellenbosch FC three weeks ago.
For Tshakhuma and Sporting, their fall from the top point was prompted by the reshuffling of their technical teams.
TTM, as Tshakhuma are known, collected 19 points from their opening 10 fixtures and were second on the log.
Sporting was hovering closely behind them in third.
The Venda-based outfit finished the first round in fourth place, neck and neck with Mbombela United, Royal Eagles and Stellenbosch.
Cracks at Tshakhuma started to show when the Venda-based side lost to lowly placed Ubuntu Cape Town and Ajax, who were – at that time – struggling.
This led to coach Sello Chokoe being given an ultimatum to turn things around or face the chop. He was relieved of his duties late last month.
Under caretaker coach Phuti Mahafe, TTM is yet to win a league game this year.
Mahafe’s only victory dates back to their shock elimination of Polokwane City in the first round of the Nedbank Cup late last month.
Former Kaizer Chiefs striker Edward Manqele scored both goals in the 2-1 win and the burly marksman is expected to lend his experience to the front line against Ajax this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Sporting’s downward spiral coincided with the departure of Benson Mhlongo before the festive season break.
The former Orlando Pirates utility player did not embrace the Mpumalanga-based novice’s move to hire well-travelled Sammy Troughton as the club’s technical director.
They now have Mfanimpela Maseko as the interim coach.
Sporting host Maccabi, who were fifth in November, but also lost their early spark and now find themselves in the relegation zone.
Maccabi lost to Ajax last weekend, a few days after they were eliminated by amateur side The Magic FC in the Nedbank Cup Last 32.