CAPE TOWN – The sighs of relief heard at Athlone Stadium on Wednesday night could be heard reverberating from Green Point to Gugulethu as Cape Town City finally got back to winning ways.
The Cape side, after four successive defeats, edged Free State Stars 1-0 in a PSL fixture – and it was the unlikely figure of central defender Taariq Fielies who proved to be the hero as he steered in the winner five minutes before full time after a goalmouth scramble in the Stars penalty area.
While City will be happy with the victory, their continued ineptitude in front of goal will remain a major bone of contention.
In short, while the Capetonians dominated the action from the opening whistle, they looked like rank amateurs when faced with scoring opportunities.
This is an area that coach Benni McCarthy will have to fix if they are to be among the challengers in the PSL.
While City were in the ascendancy in the opening 45 minutes with regard to ball possession and territory, they were not able to make that dominance count in the opposition penalty area.
The Free State club had clearly come with the aim of attempting a smash and grab – they kept it tight and compact and were very well organised defensively.
For City, despite all the possession they enjoyed, there was just one real shot on target in the first half, and that came in the opening minute when Austrian Roland Putsche blasted a shot over the bar.
The Capetonians’ good work was built on the smooth skill and intelligent link play of veteran, 34-year-old Teko Modise and the direct running of the speedy Craig Martin.
The problem for City was that they couldn’t find the final pass to break down the Stars defence, while their crossing was often too long and their decision making left a lot to be desired.
Stars, on the other hand, stuck resolutely to their game plan. They are a rugged, combative bunch, this Free State side, and they harried the player on the ball, kept their shape and just never allowed City to get any fluency to their game.
Ten minutes before the break, City had a setback when Nigerian striker Victor Obinna went down with a hamstring injury and had to be replaced by Judas Moseamedi.
Things proved to be no different in the second period – City tried their utmost to find a way through, but Stars remained as stubborn as ever.
For the Cape side, Martin and Putsche went close again, while at the other end Tshepo Gumede made a brilliant tackle to deny Stars striker Siphelele Mthembu.
In the final 15 minutes, though, City finally started to get through as the packed Stars defence started tiring.
Mpho Matsi had a shot saved by goalkeeper Ali Sangare and substitute Sibusiso Masina squandered two easy chances.
As City piled on the pressure, it was clear that something had to give, and it did when Fielies popped up to score and earn his team the three points.