JOHANNESBURG - For the second time this season, reigning Absa Premiership champions Mamelodi Sundowns struggled to capitalise on their home ground advantage.
It was a similar story during their championship winning campaign – being phenomenal travellers who found the going tough in their own backyard. They were held to a goalless draw by Highlands Park, making the result their second successive stalemate at Loftus Versfeld having shared spoils with Kaizer Chiefs in their league opener at the same venue two weeks ago.
What made things even more difficult for the Brazilians is the fact that they had defender Ricardo Nascimento sent off five minutes into the second half for his reaction to a refereeing decision. And when they thought they had shrugged off the numerical disadvantage 20 minutes later, defender Junior Sibande pulled off an incredible clearance off the line to keep the visitors in the game.
Gaston Sirino sent a good ball into the box to locate Wayne Arendse, who did everything right – a timely header that beat goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini and was certainly goal-bound. But Sibande was alert to clear the ball of the line with his head and that might have been the moment of the match.
For Sundowns, who looked a little lethargic following their trip from Casablanca via Ghana last week, their home form may be an issue yet again. Sundowns lost all three of their opening home Premier League matches last season while having an incredible record away – winning their five away games in that period.
Perhaps it is early days and they will address it. Their coach Pitso Mosimane would have wanted a first win of the season, especially after losing to Wydad Casablanca last Friday night in their CAF Champions League group stage fixture, which left them needing to win their final match against Horoya next week to qualify for the quarterfinals.
Congratulations to Junior Sibande on win in MOM Award tonight! What a clearance he produced! pic.twitter.com/A3G1AjCjhA
What is positive is that Sundowns did try to win the game despite being down a man. Highlands Park were only happy to absorb the pressure and try hit them on the counter. Mosimane said the opponents were robust and played “street football” as the referee flashed eight yellow card and a straight red card. The visitors are still without a win this season and have only managed draws – away to Orlando Pirates, at home when they faced Black Leopards and now on the road at Sundowns.
The Brazilians will have to pick themselves up very quickly to prepare for the first leg of their MTN8 semifinal fixture in the Mother City against Cape Town City on Saturday afternoon.