When SuperSport United shocked them to a 1-0 defeat here seven days ago, it was an incredibly deflating blow, and you could tell by their body language.
They laboured to a narrow 1-0 win against defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns on Workers’ Day Monday to overtake their visitors to the top of the table.
This fixture had a lot riding on it, but with another title-chasing side in Cape Town City surprisingly going down 1-0 to Maritzburg United at the Harry Gwala Stadium a couple of hours earlier, there was a whole lot more at stake.
The Brazilians had proved themselves in their last six matches, where they won five and drew the other, and managing to keep a clean sheet in all of them. If that didn’t speak to their credentials as favourites to retain their trophy, then no statistics ever would.
Wits had a plan, perhaps emanating from the fact that when they last met in the corresponding fixture in February at Loftus Versfeld, Sundowns gave them a masterclass that had to have lingered long in the memory when they convincingly beat them 2-0.
On Monday night, the Clever Boys set up their stalls intelligently, and it was no surprise that their goal came from a defensive midfielder.
Sifiso Myeni, an unexpected name in the Wits starting line-up, went on a mazy run and delivered a cross so accurate, all Ben Motshwari had to do was guide it past goalkeeper Denis Onyango and give the Students the lead.
The second half was a lot scrappier, which forced referee Victor Hlungwani to produce two red cards to two substitutes.
It hadn’t been long after both Fares Hachi and Daine Klate were on the pitch for Sundowns and Wits respectively – tactical changes that, by their nature, should have given the two sides a different dimension, and maybe even a bit of an edge in seeing through this tense affair.
But they were perhaps too fired up when they came on and were quickly sent for early showers, Hachi getting booked twice to earn his marching orders. So too did Klate.
Wits had to be steely and focused. Sundowns had to throw everything at them and hope not to be caught on the counter, or else the game would be completely beyond their reach.
When whistleman Hlungwani added five minutes to optional time, it was squeaky-bum time. This game hardly had the neutrals on the edge of their seats, but being a potential title decider, it naturally had applause, jeers and a bit of drama between the two benches, particularly when the referee was dishing out red cards.
Wits fans celebrated, with hugs all around, as a sign that they’d taken a big leap in the Premiership race.
Top of the table and all to play for with five matches remaining for both the new log leaders and second-placed Sundowns, and just a point separating them.
1 Wits 51 points after 25 games
2 Mamelodi Sundowns 50 points after 25 games
3 Cape Town City 49 points after 26 games
4 Kaizer Chiefs 46 points after 26 gamesIndependent Media