Maritzburg United, Swallows FC share the spoils in KZN capital
JOHANNESBURG – Reaching the 40-point mark is an outstanding milestone for Swallows FC who returned to the top-flight this season after languishing in the doldrums of amateur football for some time. But they’ve let themselves down in the closing stages of the campaign.
Hadn’t it been for the whopping draws they’ve conceded this season, they could have been up there with the pacesetters. But with five matches before the curtains fall on their campaign, their realistic finish is a mere top-five spot – or even below.
They visited relegation threatened Maritzburg United yesterday night, hoping to change their fortunes and return to winning ways after a three-game winless streak but all they could walk away with at the Harry Gwala Stadium was a point after an 1-all draw.
This result, though, was also disappointing for the Team of Choice, who took the lead early in the second half only to be denied the three points by Sifiso Hlanti soon thereafter. They remained four points ahead of the relegation/promotion play-offs spot.
It’s been a season of two halves for Swallows. After an impressive start to the season where they were among the pacesetters on the standings, the Birds have found the going tough this year, registering three wins, 13 draws and one loss in the league.
Fresh from three draws, Swallows were looking to overturn their fortunes in Pietermaritzburg. They started well, with silk build up play heading into the home side’s final third. But those didn’t bear any fruits with the final ball not reaching target man Daniel Gozar.
But with the progression of the match, the Team of Choice were starting to gel into the game. They had two set-pieces which were not far from goalkeeper Virgil Vries’ goalmouth – a territory of Maritzburg’s marksman Thabiso Kutumela.
Kutumela put the first effort unceremoniously wide off the target, before hitting the second set-piece, which was closer to the D-Line, against the wall - while referee Eugene Mdluli blew his whistle for a free-kick for the away side after a scramble inside the 18-area.
Maritzburg, who ended the first half the better side continued with where they left off in the second. They found the breakthrough after a short pass from Wandisile Letlabika was intercepted by Puleng Tlolane who found Travis Graham.
The former Cape Town Spurs man bulldozed his way between Maritzburg’s defence before rounding the wall, forcing Vries to commit, and subsequently pouncing into an empty – with the home side looking on course for their second win in as many matches.
Swallows, though, quickly responded. Hlantsi, the main culprit who was responsible for the goal they conceded, side-footed to the far post inside the 18-area after being picked up by Zaphaniah Mbokoma with a delightful cross in front of goal.
The Team of Choice continued to search for the winner, with Kutumela blocked off the line by Vries. But it was Swallows who must have been more disappointed with the draw as they climbed up to just fourth on the standings, despite reaching the 40-point mark.