No one would begrudge Mamelodi Sundowns from spending Wednesday morning earmarking a prominent space in their burgeoning trophy cabinet for a new arrival. A routine 1-0 victory against against Golden Arrows on Tuesday evening left second-place Orlando Pirates six points behind the side from Loftus, with only three games to go.
Naturally, it was the Buccaneers who desperately needed a slip-up here. Their faithful supporters poured into the Pretoria stadium, pleading for an upset. A set of fans held up a collaborative sign: “please stop them”. It was always likely to be more a prayer than genuine hope.
The clock had barely ticked past the minute mark when Pitso Mosimane’s men made their intent unmistakable. Gaston Sirino made a clever run through the commotion in the Arrows box before collecting an equally intelligent lay-off and firing low and hard ― the left post preventing a dream start.
Clinton Larson can only look at his own players for the goal which came 22 minutes later. His side dismissed an opportunity to clear the ball in favour of retaining possession, allowing Hlompho Kekana the opportunity to snatch it on the edge of the box. The captain quickly recycled to Sibusiso Vilakazi who’s deadly turn lured a stray boot from Zolani Nkombela – penalty.
Ricardo Nascimento stepped up from the back and forced Maximilian Mbaeva to blink first as he sent the keeper the wrong way with a stuttered run-up to give the Brazilians the lead.
On the 33rd-minute mark it looked like he’d be given an opportunity to repeat the act. Percy Tau collected the ball on the left flank, just past the halfway line, and a heartbeat later had burst into the box. Nkanyiso Mngwengwe given no choice but to slide in but, in the referee’s eyes at least, managed to get enough of the ball.
Despite the disappointment at the decision it was all Sundowns from that point. Tau, Vilakazi and Themba Zwane all threatened but were unable to the summon the finishing finesse when called upon. Tau even had the ball in the back of the net as the came wound to a close but was ruled to have handled the ball following a Mbaeva save.
So 1-0 is how it ended. The score they say champions are made of ― in this case they my well be right. At the very least a welcome morale boost as Pitso prepares his charges to travel to KwaZulu-Natal to take Maritzburg United in the Nedbank Cup semi finals.