ATTERIDGEVILLE – Granted, championships are not won and lost in a single match or via just one scoring chance – converted or missed. They are, after all, the equivalent of a marathon and require consistent performances over a long period – 30 matches in the Absa Premiership’s case.
Yet there are certain games, as well as some opportunities, that tend to be definitive in the race.
The 2-2 draw between Mamelodi Sundowns and Platinum Stars on Thursday night could well turn out to be one of those, and in Sundowns’ case, it might mean their surrendering the title.
And when they assemble on Friday to inspect the wreckage, the Brazilians will no doubt point to the two second-half chances that Anthony Laffor squandered as the main reason for their having dropped two points they may regret at the end.
As it was, the Liberian international cut a forlorn figure at the end of the match as he stood hands akimbo inside the Stars box, lamenting what could have been as the opposition players applauded their group of fans behind the goals.
Generally lethal, Laffor inexplicably wasted two glorious chances you normally would expect him to convert blindfolded,
With the score already at 2-2 and Stars pressing for the winner, Sundowns caught the visitors on the counter-attack. A long ball punted forward found Percy Tau, who controlled well to shake off a defender’s attention before delivering a slide-rule pass for Laffor.
All that was required was for the midfielder to blast the ball goalwards. But Laffor is the flashy type who loves polishing the ball first, and that unnecessary first touch gave Mbongeni Mzimela time to narrow the angle and block the shot when it did come.
That the entire Sundowns bench jumped up in frustration told the story of a missed opportunity they could well live to regret.
Laffor got an opportunity to make amends in the final minute, but instead sent the ball way over the bar from close quarters, and like that, the Absa Premiership champions dropped two points in what is now a very tight race for glory.
They’d started sprightly and raised their fans’ hopes of a swift recovery from Monday’s 1-0 defeat by title rivals Bidvest Wits. As early as the sixth minute, Thabo Nthethe put them ahead with a shot from close range following a goalmouth scramble after Stars half-cleared a Tau shot.
Yet instead of building on the great start, Sundowns seemed fall into a slumber – their defence looking pretty shaky against a Stars side that attacked with verve.
They uncharacteristically allowed Ndumiso Mabena time and space to run inside the box and shoot a low left-footer past Denis Onyango for the equaliser.
Mabena gave the visitors the lead against the run of play as Stars stole possession inside Sundowns’ half, and slotted home hard and low at Onyango’s near post.
Yannick Zakri equalised with a tap-in to give rise to hopes of a Sundowns come-from-behind victory. But that never materialised, not even after Siphamandla Mlilo got sent off in the first minute of the five added on for stoppages.
It was, however, those misses by Laffor and the lax defending that allowed Mabena his brace that let Sundowns down and left them with a bit of a battle to retain their title.