DURBAN – Two second-half goals brought a lively finish to the first KwaZulu-Natal derby of the Absa Premiership season after AmaZulu and Maritzburg United drew 1-1 at the King Zwelithini Stadium in uMlazi on Tuesday night.
AmaZulu fought back for a late equaliser after struggling to find their rhythm against a largely more organised Maritzburg unit.
Substitute striker Mhlengi Cele nodded in for the first goal scored by an AmaZulu player this season in the 88th minute after Mohau Mokate forced an own goal from Michael Morton to break the deadlock with the opener about 10 minutes earlier.
In typical derby fashion, the sides neutralised each other with erratic play, interspersed with the blast of referee Olani Kwinda’s whistle.
Defences stood firm in the absence of creativity, especially from the home team. AmaZulu started with three experienced strikers in Siyabonga Nomvethe, Mabhuti Khenyeza and Rhulani Manzini – a sign of their attacking intent – but they lacked a spark to light up this formidable front-line.
Veteran Nomvethe – needing one goal to become the PSL’s all-time leading scorer with 111 goals – hugged the touchline, while Khenyeza and Manzini, the latter making his debut, were paired together.
Manzini, a recent signing from Chippa United, was almost invisible in the first half despite his formidable frame.
The Maritzburg backline had him checked as Bevan Fransman, Denis Weidlich and Siyanda Xulu set up a shield in front of their imposing Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Ofori, who made his debut.
In a match littered with mistakes, there was little for the small midweek crowd to cheer as far as goalmouth excitement was concerned.
Maritzburg went closest with an early burst when striker Mokate’s yellow boot flashed a shot wide, and defender Pogiso Sanoka forced a save from goalkeeper Boalefa Pule.
Midfielder Deolin Mekoa tried to make things happen for the team from the KwaZulu-Natal capital, but around him, Evans Rusike, Mokate and Lebohang Maboe operated on different frequencies.
After the break, Maritzburg freshened up first with the introductions of midfielders Bandile Shandu and Mxolisi Kunene.
It put them in the ascendancy, and midway through the half, the addition of Sheldon van Wyk did the trick.
The midfielder supplied the cross for Mokate, who forced Morton into an own goal in the 79th minute.
That was the spark Usuthu needed, and for the rest of the clash, they set up camp in the Maritzburg half to squeeze out the equaliser via substitute Mhlengi Cele’s header two minutes from time.
The result was a fair outcome, and Maritzburg will draw confidence from it after their exit from the MTN8 competition, while AmaZulu will hope to kick on as they prepare for a Durban derby date with Golden Arrows this weekend.