Ajax Cape Town gave it all. They left everything on the pitch, but, in the end, especially because they were forced to leave the team short at the back in search of a winner, it just wasn't enough.
The Cape side lost 2-1 to Kaizer Chiefs at the Cape Town Stadium on the final day of the PSL season – and, as a result, they will finish second-last on the league standings.
Their position on the PSL log means they will have to negotiate a tricky and unpredictable play-off campaign against First Division sides Jomo Cosmos and Black Leopards. And, if they fail to win that mini-league, they will be relegated to the First Division.
Lady Luck, it would appear, had turned her countenance on Ajax. The Cape side threw everything at Chiefs in a frenetic, pulsating second half, they had numerous opportunities to win the match, but simply couldn't find the winning moment.
And, with Ajax pouring forward in attack, and with even defenders Mario Booysen and Mosa Lebusa playing as forwards for most of the second half, they were short at the back – and Chiefs made them pay on the counter.
The opening 45 minutes will be remembered for two absolutely superb saves – on both sides. In the 35th minute, Yannick Zakri was clean through on goal and he clipped shot that was headed into the corner, only for Chiefs goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo to produce a brilliant stop to deny the Ivorian forward.
Nine minutes later, just before the break, Ajax goalkeeper Jody February rose to the occasion when his agile, acrobatic reflex save prevented Chiefs' Bernard Parker from scoring.
For February, especially, it was a special moment. He celebrated his 22nd birthday on today and, at that stage, his effort was crucial in keeping this team in the game.
Ajax's game plan was clear. They were not going to risk too much in the first half; because of their situation, it was vital that they did not concede. So they kept it tight, prevented Chiefs from playing through their defensive lines, and looked to hit back on the counter. It certainly worked well when, in the sixth minute, they had a really good break. Grant Margeman fed Fagrie Lakay, with Zakri in a really good position just outside the penalty area, but, unfortunately, Lakay overhit his pass and the chance went begging.
The Cape side had an opportunity from a corner, too, in the 22nd minute, but, from the resulting scramble in the box, Roscoe Pietersen hit the upright.
Ajax coach Muhsin Ertugral changed things at the start of the second half, clearly in search of some inspiration in attack. Out came Zakri and Yagan Sasman, and they were replaced by Tashreeq Morris and Toriq Losper.
But, seven minutes into the second period, Ajax were on the back foot as Parker rose majestically to head in a corner-kick and give Chiefs a 1-0 lead.
The Capetonians then had no choice but to throw caution to the wind and come out of their shell. Morris had a great opportunity to level matters, but Khuzwayo again produced a great save to ensure the ball trickled wide of goal.
But, finally inspired, Ajax were back level at 1-1 in the 64th minute – and it was Captain Courageous Lebusa scoring with powerful header from a Rodrick Kabwe corner.
With the game opening up, it was frantic end-to-end stuff, and it needed another glorious stop from February to prevent Siphiwe Tshabalala from putting Chiefs back in front.
Morris, Booysen and Pietersen had further opportunities to win the game, but failed to make the most of it – and, then, as this cruel game of football would have it, Chiefs winger Joseph Molangoane pounced to score and hand the Soweto club the victory.
For Ajax, they'll have to get over the disappointment very quickly because the play-offs are scheduled to get under way next week.