DURBAN – Extra time and penalties were needed as AmaZulu avoided a Nedbank Cup upset against Mthatha Bucks with a 3-0 win on spot-kicks at the King Zwelithini Stadium in uMlazi on Wednesday night.
A super strike from substitute Simphiwe Lumkwana in the first half of extra time and defender Sadate Ouro-Akoriko’s equaliser steered the home side to the brink of the last-16, before Mashale Rantabane’s last-minute goal in extra time added the drama of a potential upset through penalties as it ended 2-2 following 120 minutes of football.
However, Bucks were blitzed 3-0 in the penalty shoot-out.
The result saw AmaZulu stretch their unbeaten run to six matches in league and cup play.
The Nedbank Cup came at the right time for coach Cavin Johnson to switch his line-up and test the squad depth by giving a run to players who needed game time.
Six changes were made from the side that beat Golden Arrows 2-1 at the weekend in the Absa Premiership.
That league result marked Usuthu’s fifth game without defeat, and eased the pressure on the side by lifting them into the top half of the standings.
Among the changes, new striker Camaldine Abraw started ahead of 40-year-old Siyabonga Nomvethe – who was not in the match-day squad – goalkeeper Boalefa Pule returned to the first team and Ghanaian Samuel Darpoh got game time in his midfield enforcer role.
Togolese forward Abraw led the line as the main attacker, supported by midfielders Jabulani Ncobeni and Sduduzo Dlamini, while the club’s other veteran striker Mabhuti Khenyeza, who was instrumental in the unbeaten run, was dropped to the bench.
The first half ended goalless, a sign of the competition the Eastern Cape visitors posed.
Despite being second-bottom in the National First Division (NFD), they made AmaZulu sweat for openings and played expansively when they attacked via Sello Jaftha and ex-PSL player Angelo Kerspuy.
With the R7 million winners’ prize-money at stake, the coastal rivals upped the tempo after the interval.
Mpho Erasmus got Pule to tip over a shot he manufactured with a quick turn on the edge of the box two minutes into the second half.
Ten minutes later, the underdogs upstaged their big league counterparts with the lead when Rantabane headed in from a corner kick.
It was the spur AmaZulu needed to up their game.
Siyethemba Mnguni, scorer of the opener at the weekend, blazed a shot over from Ncobeni’s run and then got into the supply chain.
Mnguni created openings for teammates, and the pressure yielded the equaliser off Ouro-Akoriko’s boot in the 65th minute.
Khenyeza was introduced for the final 10 minutes of regulation time, and for Bucks, Wandisile Fukutwa took over from Siyabonga Dubula in midfield, but the stalemate dragged the clash into extra time.
The match swung in AmaZulu’s favour when Lumkwana thundered in a shot shortly after he replaced Ncobeni.
Bucks fought till the last, and had a penalty appeal ignored by referee Masixole Bambiso at the death as the tie ended with a flurry of opportunities at both ends.