Post-Pitso Mosimane era starts on a disastrous note for Sundowns
CAPE TOWN – The post-Pitso Mosimane era started on a bleak note for Mamelodi Sundowns as they suffered an upset 1-0 loss at the hands of Bloemfontein Celtic in Sunday's MTN8 quarter-final at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville.
It was the first time that Sundowns were playing without Mosimane, the most decorated coach in PSL history. Questions will now again be posed about the wisdom of replacing him with the coaching triumvirate of Manqoba Mngqithi, Rhulani Mokwena and Steve Komphela.
Some observers may say the result was not unexpected because Celtic has run Sundowns close in their encounters towards the end of last season.
Sundowns managed to impose themselves on the match from the outset and forced two corners in succession in the fourth minute.
The first corner was wastefully overcooked, but the second one was poorly dealt with by the Celtic defence. The ball spilt clear and Brazilian Ricardo Nascimento took a pot shot from point-blank range, but Celtic goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane brought off an excellent reflex save to avert danger.
The next best scoring chance fell to Celtic's Lesotho striker Sera Motebang in the 18th minute. The unmarked Sera did well to take a goalmouth cross on his chest plumb in front of the opposition goals. However, he failed to maintain control and Sundowns' Ugandan goalkeeper Denis Onyango pounced to collect the stray ball.
Just on the half-hour mark, Mabokgwane again intervened to deny Sundowns. Defender Lyle Lakay slipped the ball past the Celtic defence and Gaston Sirino, unmarked, backheeled his scoring effort but an acrobatic Mabokgwane scooped the ball up and it was cleared by his supporting defence.
On the stroke of halftime, Peter Shalulile the lone striker in Sundowns' 5-4-1 playing pattern, headed the ball into the Celtic net but the goal was disallowed because the scorer was adjudged offside.
Two minutes into second-half play, Sundowns' defence was caught napping. Celtic striker Victor Letsalo was given a free run into the striking zone but he shot wide with the opposition's rearguard in disarray.
As the match approached the hour mark, Sundowns' defensive midfielder Hlompho Kekana unleashed a pile-driver well outside the Celtic penalty area. The strike rattled the crossbar and dipped straight down on the goal line. However, not enough of the ball was across the chalk to warrant a goal.
In the 69th minute, Celtic turned the match on its head as Letsalo atoned for his earlier miss. He latched on to a free-kick into the Sundowns' penalty box and nodded the ball well clear of Onyango's despairing dive (1-0).
Sundowns made a raft of substitutions soon after this setback, but Celtic kept their slender lead intact which gave the green light into the semi-final round.
In the dying minutes, Celtic threatened another goal as they pinned Sundowns down in their half for much of the six minutes of added time.
Meanwhile, in the semi-final draw conducted after the match, Orlando Pirates will host Kaizer Chiefs, and SuperSport United will be home to Bloemfontein Celtic.