PIETERMARITZBURG – The Absa Premiership top-eight tussle between Maritzburg United and Chippa United ended in a tight 1-1 tie at the Harry Gwala Stadium in Pietermaritzburg on Friday night.
A goal apiece in the second half from Evans Rusike for Maritzburg and Mxolisi Macuphu for the visitors left the sides entrenched in the top half of the standings.
A busy first half surprisingly ended goalless, with balls cleared off the line, a penalty saved and a few crunching tackles in between as the top-eight foes tore into each other at pace.
There was an interesting battle on the left, where Chippa’s new man from Mamelodi Sundowns, Algerian Fares Hachi, connected with ex-Maritzburg playmaker Kurt Lentjies to hit the home side on the counter.
That’s where the penalty materialised, as Hachi’s cross was blocked by defender Brian Onyango’s trailing arm.
Fortunately for the home group, Ghanaian number one Richard Ofori stood tall in a battle of west Africa against Chippa’s Nigerian captain James Okwuosa to parry the grounder midway through the half.
Earlier, Fortune Makaringe gave the lively home crowd a scare when he was carried off injured.
However, he returned to the field to the relief of the home bench who lost defender Bevan Fransman early in their last outing, a 3-0 win at Free State Stars last weekend.
Having blasted nine goals in their last four assignments, the Team of Choice exploited gaps in the visiting defence, but lacked the finishing finesse.
Deolin Mekoa’s trusty left boot let him down when gifted with a free shot, he had a strike deflected for a corner by Okwuosa, and Evans Rusike failed to push his season’s tally to eight when he blazed the ball high.
The story of misses stretched into the second period as Lebohang Maboe curled a solo effort into goalie Daniel Akpeyi’s gloves.
Flying tackles also flowed through to the second half, with Zitha Macheke getting booked for an over the top boot on midfielder Siphesihle Ndlovu in the 50th minute.
The introduction of Thabo Rakhale gave the Chippa front-line some zip and meant extra work for Onyango, Siyanda Xulu and newcomer Rushine de Reuck in the home defence.
Former Orlando Pirates man Rakhale had hardly settled in, and Maritzburg made the visitors rue their penalty miss when Zimbabwean Rusike broke the deadlock in the 64th minute.
Hardly 10 minutes later, Chippa’s fight bore fruit, with Mxolisi Macuphu sneaking ahead of De Reuck to beat Ofori with a shot across goal for the leveller.