Johannesburg – Relegation-threatened Free State Stars were cruelly aced by Black Aces in a rousing, bruising Premier League game at Goble Park in Bethlehem on Saturday afternoon in spite of dominating the proceedings territorially and having twice as many chances as their opponents.
Aces' 3-2 victory came about after all five goals were scored in the second period and virtually assures them of finishing among the top eight teams in the log and qualifying for next season's MTN8 competition.
But for Stars the prospect of avoiding a 15th position in the log and having to play in the relegation-promotion play-off with National First Division clubs has now become increasingly bleak - with the only saving grace that bottom-of-the-log Golden Arrows still appear certain of the big drop.
Saturday's game in Bethlehem developed into a no-holds-barred battle with so much at stake for both sides - Stars needed a win to improve their chances of survival in the Premier League while Aces were searching for notable success in their first season since returning to the PSL's top division.
The bruising nature of the exchanges was reflected by the fact that both sides conceded more than a dozen free-kicks during the match of contrasting, but critical incentives for the two teams.
Despite Stars dominating play during the opening 45 minutes, the opening half ended goalless - thanks to to some superb goalkeeping from Aces goalkeeper Bafana Nhlapo.
The agile Nhlapo was peppered by shots from all angles in the first half and made no less than seven crucial saves in the opening 45 minutes alone.
Stars' pressure finally brought dividends a minute after the interval when Moeketsi Sekola pounced on a defence-splitting pass from Danny Venter to open the score.
But prospect of a much-sought after victory for the Free State side was soon erased when Tandai Ndoro made the opening for Miguel Timm to score a precisely-placed equaliser in the 52nd minute.
Despite continuing to be under pressure, Aces never lost their cool, defended stoically in the face of Stars' ongoing sorties and demonstrated their penchant for opportunist goals by taking a 2-1
lead in the 71st minute through a snap shot from Zamuxolo Ngalo following a rare corner.
Stars' fate appeared to be sealed when Thabo Qalinge gave Aces a 3-1 lead in the 84th minute after the articulate Ndoro initiated a second goal in the game.
But the never-say-die Stars never gave up the ghost and Basit Adam made the score 3-2 in the 86th minute with a powerful 25-metre shot that constituted probably the best goal of the game.
Stars threw everything into attack during a desperate final five minutes, but the Aces' defence held firm as the team now move into an unexpected fourth place in the log table. – Sapa