Cape Town - Milano United’s dream of promotion to the Premier Soccer League (PSL) was snuffed out in a 2-0 defeat to Polokwane City at the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Grassy Park-based club showed admirable passion and commitment during their participation in the PSL promotion play-offs - but, truth be told, they lacked the necessary quality to compete at this slightly higher level. When it came to vital moments in the game, Polokwane just had that little bit extra, which Milano struggled to find in all their fixtures in this mini-league.
Polokwane are now favourites to retain their spot in the PSL, though Black Leopards still have a chance to pip Boebie Solomons’ team, with two matches still to play.
Leopards face Milano at Athlone on Wednesday and they then take on neighbours Polokwane in the final match of the play-offs on Sunday.
On Sunday, though, Milano’s defeat turned on one crucial moment in the match - a moment which would tilt the game in Polokwane’s favour.
After a goalless first half, with very few scoring opportunities, except for one which saw Milano left-back Taariq Fielies clear Vukile Mngqibisa’s effort off the goal-line, the second period saw Milano throw more players forward as they went in search of a much-needed victory.
Milano got a free-kick just outside the penalty area, which Nazier Jacobs chipped in for Fielies to run on to. Polokwane goalkeeper Modiri Marumo came charging out and punched the ball away while, at the same time, thrusting his feet high, studs-up, at Fielies. It was a malicious tackle, but the referee saw nothing wrong and wrongly booked Fielies for the incident, even though the Milano player had clearly come off second best.
Fielies was badly injured, he could hardly move. Strangely, though, the Milano coaches failed to make a decisive move to take the player off. It was to cost them the game.
Solomons, meanwhile, had noticed Fielies struggling - and he made a clever tactical switch. He brought on the pacy Thabo Rakhale to terrorise the injured Fielies on the right flank and it brought immediate joy for Polokwane. When the hobbling Milano left-back failed to close Rakhale down, the cross came in and Sphesihle Nzimande sweetly volleyed in to give Solomons’ men the lead.
Fielies then requested to come off, but the damage had already been done - and Rakhale finished things off by scoring the second.