Sundowns survive screamer scare

From the stands

It was unsettling when Loftus Versfeld suddenly held its breath on Wednesday night.

For 90 minutes it had heaved and aahed with a calming regularity. There was never much reason to think Cape Town City could leave Pretoria with anything other than a Benni McCarthy rollicking. That’s until Kermit Erasmus released an authoritative drive into the top corner from outside the box.

There were only a few seconds left but you could feel the doubt spread from seat to seat as the scoreboard ticked up to 3-2. It was a mutual realisation that yes, this all really was too good to be true.

After two successive draws, one against log leaders BidVest Wits, the Yellow Nation demanded that this be the match that secured top spot. For months they’ve had to accept that despite their games in hand, the league table is unable to reflect their status as the best in the land.

Come hell or high water, they believed Sundowns would change that reality this night.

The smell of seared chops penetrated the air more than usual around the entrances thanks to the increased demand. Thousands streamed through the gates – visibly happy to give up their midweek evening for the summit attempt.

Walking into the upper level stands, the waft of braai meat was quickly replaced by one of pre-game skunk. Yellow spread across the section like a multiplying virus as the kick-off drew closer.

They didn’t have to wait long for the effort on the pitch to mirror their anticipation.

Hlompho Kekana need only intimate that he’s about to let one go from range to draw a mass reaction, so vivid is the memory of his past strikes on the ground. Gastón Sirino plays his part by driving at the defence, regularly turning turning them as he bears down on goal.

But these were mere teasers.

When Lebohang Maboe did finally grab the lead, his broad smile was replicated thousands of times over around the stadium. Whatever nerves there were dissipated in the warm Hatfield atmosphere. This was how the script was meant to be written.

Even after Riyaad Norodien slotted in a penalty straight after half-time, no one seemed particularly bothered. There was still 45 minutes to reassert Masandawana dominance.

One hyperactive Sundowns spectator in full-kit got prematurely excited behind the City goal. He jogged up-and-down the walkway, desperately trying to get attention for his warm-up routine. When it was not forthcoming, he perched himself on the zinc advertising boards and started to beat away on them.

Before you knew it, it was 3-1 and we were back on script. The result the crowd had come here for was on course.

And then Erasmus unleashed his left-footed screamer. Kennedy Mweene couldn’t turn his head in time to watch it go in, let alone dive for it.

No one knew the appropriate reaction and most just aimlessly looked around for a response.

That’s the thing about moments of brilliance: had City scored a tap-in, the drums would probably have just kept playing as the last two minutes were routinely seen out. But with this, Erasmus struck doubt into every soul who had watched what was previously a procession.

In that awkward moment of silence the league destiny looked like it just may remain a mystery for a little longer.

A sullen looking McCarthy, however, could not rally his players to produce the unattainable and the music fittingly returned.

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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