Wits claimed the last slot in the Nedbank Cup quarter-finals by eliminating Black Leopards 3-2 in a penalty shoot-out at the second attempt at Thohoyandou Stadium on Monday.
The Milpark-based side had to make the long trek from Johannesburg to Thohoyandou for the second time in two weeks to honour a fixture that was abruptly ended by rain, with Wits trailing Leopards 1-0.
That rain proved to be a blessing in disguise for Wits, as it allowed them to regroup and return with a better strategy to slay Leopards on penalties – after the game ended 1-1 after extra time – at a venue they’re slowly turning into a slaughterhouse.
Wits made four changes from the team that trailed Lidoda Duvha 1-0 on Wednesday last week before the match was abandoned.
Gavin Hunt approached this game with one eye on their top-of-the-league clash with second-placed Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday at Milpark.
The Clever Boys lead the Brazilians by three points, but Sundowns have played three fewer games.
Hunt once again rested Darren Keet for Sundowns, with Ricardo Goss getting a rare start in goal.
Goss ended the night as the hero with his two penalty saves, to deny Karabo Tshepe and Themba Ndlovu, as well as intimidating Lesedi Kapinga to miss the crucial last penalty that would have sent the shoot-out to sudden death.
Hunt started the match with Simon Murray and Gift Motupa leading the attack instead of Lehlohonolo Majoro and Terrence Dzukamanja, who started last week.
The decision to start the Limpopo-born Motupa quickly paid off. The bulldozing forward put the Clever Boys ahead just after the half-hour mark.
Motupa benefited from sloppy defensive work by Tsheamo Mashoene, whose poor clearance landed in the path of Elias Pelembe.
The experienced Mozambican put the ball on a platter for Motupa, who fired his team ahead.
Leopards, who had a slow start, showed their claws once they found themselves on the back foot.
That led to end-to-end action, with both teams giving as good as they got, knowing that they only have one shot at booking a place in the quarter-finals.
What a dramatic way to win it!!!— Bidvest Wits (@BidvestWits) February 18, 2019
We progress to the Quarterfinals of the #NedbankCup2019 🙌
Penalties: 🐆 Black Leopards 2️⃣-3️⃣ Bidvest Wits 🔵⚪️#BidvestWits #NedbankCup #Nakanjani pic.twitter.com/1yEgrvylbR
Leopards found themselves on top in the second half. They pinned Wits back and forced them to defend in numbers, with Lidoda Duvha coming at them with all their might.
That pressure paid off. Mwape Musonda connected with Joseph Mhlongo’s cross to beat Goss and level matters at 1-1.
The Zambian’s goal sent the home crowd into wild celebrations and shook off the thoughts they were entertaining that their Nedbank Cup run would end in the last-16.
Musonda had an opportunity to steal a win at the death during extra time, after an exquisite pass from Tshepe, which hypnotised Wits’ defenders.
But the forward missed a glorious chance with only Goss to beat.
Leopards lived to regret that miss as they went down in the shoot-out.
Kapinga’s miss silenced the loud home crowd, and took Wits to the last eight, where they join Bloemfontein Celtic, Cape Umoya United, Chippa United, Golden Arrows, Kaizer Chiefs, Cape Town City and TS Galaxy for the draw on Thursday.