CAPE TOWN – Bantu Mzwakali answered his coach in the best way possible by providing the team with more attacking impetus in Ajax Cape Town’s 2-1 narrow victory over Bloemfontein Celtic at the Athlone Stadium on Saturday night.
But it wasn’t all plain-sailing for Ajax as this hard-running, persistent Celtic side gave as good as they got – and in the end, were perhaps unlucky not to leave with a share of the spoils.
The Bloemfontein team threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Capetonians in the closing stages in search of an equaliser, but couldn’t find a way through.
The win will certainly provide much-needed confidence for struggling Ajax and ease the pressure on head coach Stanley Menzo.
Mzwakali, the 23-year-old midfielder schemer, hasn’t seen much game time this season, with Menzo on record as saying that he wanted the player to raise his game.
The former Ajax Amsterdam and Netherlands goalkeeper in charge of the Cape side has in fact not been happy the performances of a number of players this season, hence the Cape club’s inconsistent, patchy start to the season.
But good players don’t disappear in the face of criticism – they accept the challenge and then rise to the occasion.
Mzwakali demonstrated this in no uncertain terms when he showed some of his better form against Celtic.
The one thing Ajax have missed this season is a player capable of getting at the end of the team’s build-up work with late runs into the penalty area, and in just generally offering an effervescent presence that rubs off on the rest of the team.
On Saturday, Mzwakali provided both, and Ajax just looked so much better when going forward.
For the Capetonians, there were opportunities for Roscoe Pietersen, Mosa Lebusa and Mzwakali in the opening 45 minutes, but all narrowly missed the target.
At the other end, Celtic too had their moments, with Given Mashikinya and Ndumiso Mabena going close.
But with Ajax showing greater desire and purpose in attack, it was no surprise when they took the lead in the 37th minute when Pietersen turned in an excellent cross, and it was that man Mzwakali at the end of it to give the Capetonians a well-deserved lead.
However, a determined Celtic came out flying in the second half and had the Cape side under enormous pressure early on.
Fortunately for Ajax, on one occasion, right back Rheece Evans was able to avert the danger, and soon after, goalkeeper Brandon Petersen made a great save to deny the visitors’ striker Roggert Nyundu.
Ajax, though, were still threatening on the counter, and in the 60th minute, they made it 2-0 after good work from Pietersen and Thabo Mosadi resulted in Tashreeq Morris steering the ball into the net.
But with Celtic not letting up at the other end, they pulled one back when their relentless pressure eventually told and the Cape side’s defender Isaac Nhlapo put the ball into his own net.
And the Bloemfontein side could have equalised minutes later, but again Petersen came to the rescue with a great stop to deny Mabena.
Ajax had to hang on in the face of a resolute Celtic at the end, but hang on they did to take the valuable three points.