Johannesburg – Bloemfontein Celtic weathered an early Free State Stars' assault on their goal and ultimately emerged 2-0 winners in the Free State Premiership derby at Goble Park, in Bethlehem, on Saturday afternoon.
The result elevates Celtic from 12th position in the log to a mid-table ninth place, while adding to the relegation threat that has engulfed Stars after a promising, optimistic start to the season.
Despite several recent big-name purchases, Stars remain in 15th place in the 16-team log table, but they had an abundance of opportunities in the opening 30 minutes to have cemented a handy lead and placed them in line for three invaluable points.
Over-eager finishing by the Stars' forwards and a heroic display in the Celtic goal by Cameroonian Patrick Tignyemb resulted in the game remaining goalless.
That was until Frank Mhango's shot from the edge of the penalty area in the 32nd minute eluded a packed goalmouth, and gave the Bloemfontein side a much-needed, match-changing lead.
Simultaneously with the change in the course of play, the weather also altered suddenly, with the earlier muggy and sultry conditions replaced by light rain.
The Celtic defence, which had looked uncoordinated, in spite of including players of the reputation of Tsietsi Mahoa, Clayton Daniels and Joel Mogorosi, found their feet and stamped their authority on play in the second half.
But it was the jack-in-the-box Tignyemb who was mainly responsible for this change in the game's pattern.
Tignyemb gained possession with daring early saves from Richard Henyekane. Danny Venter and Bokang Thlone and foiled and frustrated the eager Stars' scoring attempts.
Stars, nevertheless, battled manfully to come back onto level terms until Lerato Lamola's second goal for Celtic in the 71st minute, following a clinical pass from Musa Nyatama virtually sealed the issue.
Lamola had only been on the pitch for five minutes as a 66th minute substitute when he made a timely strike that left the unsighted Ayanda Mtsali in Stars' goal flat-footed.
Up to this point, Celtic's German-born coach, Ernst Middendorp, had been pacing up and down his box on the sidelines like a caged lion, while roaring instructions to his players to keep up their momentum.
But although the bustling Henyekane, continued to threaten the Celtic defence in the closing stages, his once-lethal finishing remained off-target - leaving Middendorp purring and more appreciative of his team's performance by the time the final whistle sounded. – Sapa