Wits’ title dream becoming a reality!


JOHANNESBURG – Gavin Hunt remained agitated long after the final whistle was blown, the Wits coach gesticulating angrily at his celebrating players.

Such is the pressure the three-time championship-winning coach is clearly under to ensure the title dream becomes a reality.

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Phumlani Ntshangase starts the celebrations after scoring the crucial goal for Wits on Sunday. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePixWits coach Gavin Hunt was quite animated on the sidelines during the clash against Maritzburg. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePixAndrea Fileccia of Maritzburg United is just too late as Wits goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs claims possession. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix

It took a pat on his back by CEO Jose Ferreira to calm him down after Wits beat Maritzburg United 1-0 on Sunday afternoon.

Yet when Hunt looks at the Absa Premiership table on Monday morning, the pressure will be eased somewhat as he sees his team at the summit – three points ahead of holders Mamelodi Sundowns.

There are just three matches to go, and all Wits have to do is continue eking out results like they did here on Sunday.

Coming into this match having derailed Cape Town City’s title aspirations, Maritzburg were always going to prove hard to beat.

And it took Wits a top-class header by Phumlani Ntshangase to break the Team of Choice’s resistance.

Substitute Phakamani Mahlambi delivered a good free kick from the right, and the ball eluded everyone on the centre of the box.

But Ntshangase was perfectly positioned at the far end, unmarked, to power the ball in at the far post.

A sense of relief enveloped the tiny arena that soon reverberated into chants of excitement as the brass band played on.

The goal, though, only brought about more pressure out on the pitch, Wits having to try and add to their lead while also ensuring they kept Maritzburg at bay.

Spearheaded by their talismanic captain Kurt Lentjies, the visitors probed for the equaliser and should have got one on 72 minutes when Moeneeb Josephs left his line to the right side of his box, but couldn’t clear.

Siphesihle Ndlovu lofted the ball towards the danger area to find Lentjies, who inexplicably directed the ball over the bar.

Phumlani Ntshangase (centre) grabbed the decisive goal for Wits, and enjoyed the moment with Ben Motshwari (left) and Phakamani Mahlambi. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix

Earlier on the hour mark, Mlondi Dlamini had watched in disbelief as his shot from range beat Josephs, but skimmed the top of the net.

From the beginning, Wits knew they were in for a tough match as Maritzburg went in hard for every tackle. Ndlovu was particularly biting with his tackles, and left veteran defender Bongani Khumalo writhing in pain early on.

His tackle on Reeve Frosler led to the Wits man avoiding one-on-ones with him throughout the match.

Wits though knew what they required, and it was never going to matter how they achieved their objective.

Granted Hunt ranted and raved on the sidelines as passes went astray and opportunities – like the one by Sifiso Myeni in the first half – were wasted.

But at this stage of the championship, it is never going to be about how the team play, but rather the result.

And Wits got what they desired here on Sunday thanks to the workaholic Ntshangase, who ran on every blade of grass on the pitch, took throw-ins with aplomb and put in a solid defensive shift as well.

He duly won the Man-of-the-Match award as Wits maintained their lead atop the table with clashes against Free State Stars, Polokwane City and Kaizer Chiefs still to come before they can claim their maiden championship title.

Not that you would have told they were this close to the honour from Hunt’s reaction at the final whistle.

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