MASERU — Behind every great car is a reliable engine.
This season the Matlama juggernaut has cruised past their opponents, losing just once all season on the way to topping the Vodacom Premier League table.
The cog in Tse Putsoa’s engine room has been midfielder Lehlohonolo Mokhele.
As good as born and raised at Pitso Ground, Mokhele made his debut for Matlama aged 16 in 1994 and was part of the side’s last league success in 2003.
Although he disagrees, this season has been somewhat of a late blossoming for the midfield lynchpin who has been controlling matches regularly with his effortless style.
Mokhele’s guile was perhaps most notable in Matlama’s match against defending champions Lioli on January 24.
The match was abandoned 13 minutes from time with Matlama leading 3-1 after fan violence erupted.
Mokhele was simply majestic during that match.
“I’m still playing the same way I have always played,” Mokhele said.
“Maybe it’s because this season our ambition as a team was much higher than before that it seems there is an improvement.”
Mokhele was last season criticised for failing to impose himself in the middle of the park as Matlama could only finish fifth with just three wins away from home.
This year with largely the same group of players they are undefeated on their travels.
One thing Mokhele admits has changed is his goal scoring ability and the added responsibility of being one of the few senior players in a young Matlama side.
After starting this season as the main striker — before Dlomo Monapathi arrived four matches later to lead the line — the lanky midfielder has continued to chip in with goals.
“I’m one of the senior players so I have to take responsibility and lead the younger players,” Mokhele said.
The ability to share goals has been a strong aspect for Matlama.
Litšepe Marabe, Pali Tšalong, Monapathi and Mokhele have all made important goal contributions.
Still, it’s not far-fetched to say when Mokhele and his long-time midfield partner Lebakeng Lebetsa perform so does Matlama.
At Pitso Ground the duo has created chances as if they are running out of fashion this season.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Mokhele, popularly known as Killer, says of his partnership with his buddy Lebetsa, also known as Moscow.
“We have played together for a long time so we have a good understanding and we are able to help each other on the field.”
Matlama’s performances have brought back the faithful to the grounds and it’s what pleases Mokhele most after years of playing in empty grounds.
“The supporters have helped us a lot. They are the ones who really power the team,” he said.
“Right now the crowd has increased a lot and it’s not little groups of people anymore. They are together and they are behind the team.”
On Sunday Tse Putsoa make the short trip to Ratjomose to face LDF, the only side to beat Matlama this season.
“LDF are the only team that have taken three points from us this season so we have to make sure that we show it was a mistake,” Mokhele says.
A win will not only be revenge for Matlama but will take Tse Putsoa one step closer to claiming an historic double.
With the Vodacom Soccer Spectacular which Matlama won in November, it will be a special season for them if they win the league championship.
Mokhele is, however, not yet prepared to compare the current crop with the great Matlama sides from the past.
“Every team is different. I started when the team had players like Tšepo Mafeletsi and Maradona (Motlalepula Majoro),” he said.
“That team played a different type of football. Every team differs so it’s hard to compare them.”
But with the flair and style they have shown so far, Matlama are well-placed to make history and win a record ninth league title.
“We are taking it one game at a time,” Mokhele said.
“The coach has taught the team the traditions of Matlama. Right now we are working with discipline to achieve our goals.”