Is Madinda Ndlovu's Highlanders revolution still on track?

Ndlovu Madinda of Highlanders watches on Highlanders FC

Former Zimbabwe international Madinda Ndlovu returned to the Highlanders dugout at the start of the campaign with a clear enough mandate - to delve into the team's reserves of young prospects and lay a solid foundation for sustained success.

Not many would have expected the Bulawayo giants to be anywhere near the race for this year's title. Simply proving they had the potential to be future contenders would have sufficed.

The goalless draw against CAPS United on Sunday however left Highlanders some 22 points behind log leaders FC Platinum and in real danger of missing out on a top-four finish.

The big question, therefore, is whether Ndlovu's new-look team have done enough to spark realistic hopes of a revival that would end over a decade of fruitless toiling for Zimbabwe's oldest football club?

On the evidence of Highlanders' performance in the second-half of the season however, and indeed judging by their display in the draw against CAPS, the picture remains hazy.

What cannot be denied though is that Ndlovu has knitted a team bristling with exciting young talent.

Midfielders Denzel Khumalo, aged 20, Nigel Makumbe (21), Godfrey Makaruse (22), Adrian Silla (22), Brian Banda (23) and Ben Musaka (21), along with defenders Bukhosi Ncube (20) and Mbongeni Ndlovu (19), are all full of genuine promise.

Yet the predicament could be that the majority of these youngsters are still stuck at that frustrating stage where inconsistency remains big challenge. So while Highlanders started the season on a positive note, they lost some steam thereafter.

On Sunday, Bosso recovered from a lifeless first-half display to produce some lively attacking football, often bringing the fans to their feet as they besieged the CAPS goal area in search of a winner.

The match came just days after Highlanders edged Yadah 2-1 for only a second win in seven league matches, but Ndlovu would not miss an opportunity to drive home the argument that his revolution remains on track.

"We managed to create reasonable chances but not so reasonable in terms of joy because we missed quite a number of opportunities that we could have scored," Ndlovu said in his post-match remarks.

"I give credit to my boys, because for them to come here and play such kind of a game shows the project is progressing well."

In truth though, Sunday's draw did little to dispel concerns that the vices which have haunted the team in the past might take longer to exorcise, as the Bosso strikeforce showed just why they have managed a paltry 27 goals in 28 matches this term.

Such statistics vividly illustrate how far Highlanders are at the moment from turning their promise on paper into success on the pitch.

In their last eight outings in the league, Ndlovu's men have lost to top four teams: Chicken Inn (3-2) and Ngezi Platinum (2-1), but they also capitulated at relegation candidates Mutare City (1-0) and mid-table outfit ZPC Kariba (2-1), while drawing at lowly Nichrut.

Plans are afoot to bring back striker Prince Dube following his South African misadventure, but the former Zimbabwe U-20 star can only make his contribution next season.

For now, Ndlovu has to make do with midseason signing Tafadzwa Sibanda and veteran Newman Sianchali, both of whom have so far struggled to convince.

Midfielders Makaruse, Banda and Silla are all products of the Highlanders junior policy, who have been squad players over the last two-to-three seasons, but their levels of consistency remain unimpressive.

Skilful FC Platinum loanee Makumbe and former U-20 captain Musaka have came in at the beginning of the year to add more depth to the midfield, while teenage prospect Ndlovu has often upstaged erratic skipper Honest Moyo at left-back.

Back to Sunday's clash, suspension denied Zimbabwe the chance to sample the qualities of revitalised attacking midfielder Khumalo on a big stage.

The Bantu Rovers product had a poor debut season at Highlanders last term, earning a demotion to the development side to recover his bearings in the second tier. However, he's been in full flight since his midseason return to the limelight.

With Khumalo forcing his way into the team, Ndlovu has often resorted to leaving one of his two defensive midfielders, Silla and Musaka, on the bench.

In some matches, this can upset the balance of the team and besides, the two can play together as long as one is given the room to play a box-to-box in a 4-3-3 formation.

However, these are Ndlovu's decisions to make as he looks to convince the Bosso family that, even when the results are telling a different story, the team is on a sound footing and will come back even stronger next season.