Thabiso Kutumela of Maritzburg United is challenged by Wandile Shezi of Royal Eagles during their relegation-promotion play-off match at Harry Gwala Stadium on Sunday. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

PIETEMARITZBURG – Maritzburg United's hopes of maintaining their top flight status were boosted by a hard-fought 1-0 win over National First Division (NFD) side Royal Eagles in a promotion-relegation play-off at the Harry Gwala Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Following Eagles' 1-0 victory over Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila in the first of the play-off matches at Chatsworth on Wednesday, the Durban outfit are now level on three points with Maritzburg, but have played a game more.

Overall, Eric Tinkler's side controlled much of the contest on Sunday. But having only been able to score once, through Thabiso Kutumela's 37th minute strike, the Team of Choice club grew increasingly edgy as the match moved into the latter stages as the visitors came close to grabbing a late equaliser on a couple of occasions.

It started well for Maritzburg as they enjoyed a succession of chances just after the 10 minute mark.

But the scoreline remained unchanged as Kutumela's drive rose over the bar before Eagles keeper Patrick Nyame made two brilliant saves to keep out a low shot from Miguel Timm and a header from Rushine De Reuck.

The first division side weren't offering much threat of their own, with a volley from Victor Bakah on 18 minutes which whistled just over the crossbar all they really had to show for their first half efforts.

A mistake in the Eagles defence on the half hour mark resulted in Mohau Mokate pulling the trigger from just eight yards out, but Nyame again came out with a stunning block at point-blank range.

Maritzburg's persistence was to pay off not long after though, as Kutumela netted from a tight angle at the back post, following a sustained bit of pressure in the opposition box.

The Team of Choice should have doubled their lead three minutes after the interval, but with the goal at his mercy 10 yards out, a poor first touch from an unmarked Mxolisi Kunene allowed Nyame to fly off his line and smother the ball.

There was another opportunity for Maritzburg on the hour, but after Bandile Shandu played in Fortune Makaringe, the latter fired into the side-netting.

As the game approached the 70 minute mark, Royal Eagles began to show more urgency in attack and there were two chances for Nkosivumile Zulu, both headers, with the first saved by Richard Ofori, and the second landing on the roof of the net.

As the sun set over the KZN Midlands, there were some very anxious moments in the closing moments for the hosts as Eagles peppered their box with aerial balls – and Ofori was made to work overtime to ensure his side held on for victory.

The next play-off fixture sees Maritzburg travelling to the Thohoyandou Stadium for their match against Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila on Wednesday afternoon.

African News Agency (ANA)