Johannesburg – It was far from pretty, but Mamelodi Sundowns just had enough depth and quality to ensure that their perfect start continued in the league after bagging full points against Golden Arrows away from home to go four points clear at the top.
After opening their CAF Champions League qualifiers campaign on a mild note, drawing 2-all with Maniema Union away from home, Sundowns were eager to consolidate their top spot in the league, after five victories and one draw.
Those ambitions became a reality as a solo Gaston Sirino strike in the second half gave the Brazilians all three points against Abafana Bes'thender at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium on Wednesday. Sundowns, though, will admit they were not at the best.
Arrows' sloppiness in front of goal in both halves was their worst enemy. As a result, they even missed a penalty in the second half after Michael Gumede put his spot-kick wide of target after a foul on sub Siyabonga Khumalo in the box.
Sundowns had lost some of their key players to injuries, while others were rested ahead of their return leg at home Maniema. But they'd be disappointments all round as they did little to impress Hugo Broos who was in the stands.
The Bafana coach is determined to get the best of players for the two FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Zimbabwe and Ghana next month. And you’d have expected Sundowns’ players to dominate the squad, after their recent outings.
But that might not be the case, with Broos eager to give everyone a chance, based on form - and not past experiences. But Arrows players and coaching staff will take positives from this game as they were impressive from the outset.
After that 2-all draw on the continent on Sunday, Sundowns were looking to return back to winning ways in the league. But after making a host of changes to the team that travelled to Maniema, they needed to guard against complacency.
Arrows, moreover, were not going to leave any stone unturned as they were high on confidence after beating Marumo Gallants in the league, while they were eager to avenge their 4-1 loss on the aggregate to Sundowns in the MTN8 semis.
That determination from Abafana Bes’thende was evident from the outset as they created the first clear chances of the game. Nkosinathi Sibisi, though, put his pin-point shot from a corner-kick on the side netting after a nicely taken corner-kick.
From thereon, it was Pule Mmodi who had a take at goal but he also fluffed his opportunity, unleashing his effort wide. But it was Velemseni Ndwandwe who was more wasteful. He put his header wide after a cross from Mthokozisi Dube.
Ndwandwe, though, let Sundowns off the hook one, too many times. Just after the half-an-hour mark, with his back against goal, Knox Mutizwa laid the ball for an onrushing Ndwandwe who blasted his shot over the crossbar as Downs held on.
Sundowns, who were the second-best team in the first half, would be pleased by the fact that they went into the break with a clean sheet. But Arrows, though, were left to rue their missed chances as the Brazilians stepped up when it mattered.
A quick build-up from the champions in the second half ensured that they bagged all three points. Sibusiso Vilakazi found Thabiso Kutumela who set-up Sirino with a diagonal pass. Sirino picked up his spot, slotting past Maximilian Mbaeva.