A Phikolethu Spelman goal was all Wits needed to beat a determined 10-man Free State Stars in an Absa Premiership match at a packed Bidvest Stadium on Wednesday night.
Spelman scored the only goal late in the first half to give his team maximum points, which sees them at the top of the log with seven points from three matches. Stars, on the other hand, have only a point from their three outings.
Wits started at a lively pace but their opponents were up to the early running. In the fifth minute a Marawaan Bantam header was goal-bound but Kennedy Mweene made an instinctive save and the ball was hastily cleared.
The seemingly laid-back Stars defence was put to the test by Clifford Mulenga and Richard Rantjie on the wings, and the crowd responded loudly to their deft touches. Mulenga came close in the 10th minute after mesmerising the Stars defence with his speed, but his superlative shot was matched by an athletic Mweene save.
Wits captain Sibusiso Mahlangu and Bantam orchestrated the Wits midfield while Stars skipper Duncan Lechesa drove his side forward on counter-attacks. With only Spelman up front, Wits pinned Stars in their half.
Defender Byron Hendricks joined in the attack by sweeping dangerous passes in to the box, One of them was wildly headed wide by Mulenga. At the other end, Energy Murambadoro had little to as Neil Winstanley and company kept a close watch on Diyo Sibisi.
As the first half wound down so did the pace of the game. But, with two minutes to go the Clever Boys struck. The former Winners Park striker got the slightest touch to a Fabricio Rodrigues free kick that seemed destined for the goal. Both claimed the goal, but Spelman was more animated in his celebration.
Stars almost got the equaliser a minute later through defender Jonathan Mensah, but his vicious shot was kept out by Murambadoro. With nine Stars players in the Zimbabwe international’s box, Wits caught them cold with a swift counter-attack. Mulenga surged forward with two players to his right and only defender Siyabonga Mdluli to beat.
The speedy winger opted to go alone, beat he was briskly brought down. Referee Peter Mabuza did not hesitate to send Mdluli for an early shower.
After the break Stars coach Owen Da Gama took hit man Sibisi off for midfielder Tshegofatso Mashego and his players went looking for the equaliser. Lechesa shot from close range but the keeper was in the right place to block his shot.
A minute later Matome Madimabe went on a weaving run that opened a shot at goal for him. His effort had power as Marumbadoro had to parry it before safely — and acrobatically — clutching the ball to the crowd’s delight.
Lechesa led by example, moving from box-to-box, and one of his industrious runs led to a scoring chance for Sthembiso Ngcobo, but again Marumbadoro was in the right place to deny the determined Stars.
Spelman could have sealed victory in the 70th minute after a suicidal back-pass by Sipho Nkosi, but with the goal mouth gaping he skied his shot.
Despite the numerical advantage the hosts could not add to their slender lead, lacking the composure to bury the dogged Bethlehem outfit, but left the field delighted with the result. — Sapa