PIETERMARITZBURG – The rain and thunder that hit KwaZulu-Natal on Friday night must have been brought by Free State Stars after they shocked Maritzburg United 1-0 in an Absa Premiership match at the Harry Gwala Stadium.
A second-half strike by Sinethemba Jantjie drowned the Midlands team, who slipped to a sixth straight loss in all competitions, while the visitors recorded a second consecutive win.
The home side were made to look ordinary by resilient Free State, who came to KwaZulu-Natal on the back of their first league win.
Organised in defence, Ea Lla Koto vacuumed pretty much everything thrown forward to Maritzburg’s twin attack of Evans Rusike and Andrea Fileccia.
Belgian Fileccia had one decent attempt on target, which was comfortably blocked by goalkeeper Badra Sangare.
Maritzburg otherwise struggled to get behind the visiting backline, which pointed to the growing statistic of poor finishing.
Before this game, the Team of Choice were winless in five league and cup assignments and hadn’t seen a goal scored by their own player in their last four matches.
Free State fared little better going forward, enjoying several more half-chances than their hosts.
Former Maritzburg marksman Mohammed Anas led Stars’ attack with gusto as opportunities fell to Edward Manqele and Jantjie, all of which failed to trouble Richard Ofori in the home goal.
It helped the home cause that Siyanda Xulu was in fine form with timely interceptions and clean pick-pocketing of the ball.
Goalless at halftime, Stars came out sniffing for the lead. It was game on, and Anas signalled their intent with a quick turn to beat Bevan Fransman, but rifled a grounder wide of Ofori and the upright.
Desperate to spark their attack, Maritzburg coach Fadlu Davids responded with two early changes, sending on winger Mxolisi Kunene and Devon Saal for Fortune Makaringe and Fileccia respectively.
By the 70th minute, the third and final attacking substitute was introduced when Mohau Mokate took over from Cameroonian playmaker Yazid Atouba.
It saw more blue shirts invade the Stars box, but still they were left with nothing clear cut as a long-range strike by Deolin Mekoa was the closest they went to scoring.
Stars soaked up the pressure and hit the home side with a blitz counter, finished by Jantjie in the 73rd minute for a deserved triumph.