JOHANNESBURG - A draw seemed a fair result, although the two coaches will probably disagree. The clash between the 2017 Absa Premiership champions Bidvest Wits and the current title holders in hosts Mamelodi Sundowns had the potential to turn this fixture into a Super Sunday clash.
But they all but matched each other to share the spoils. Wits took the first half, pressing Sundowns in the opening minutes and nearly getting rewarded for it when Terrence Dzvukamanja caught the flat footed Downs defence by surprise with his headed attempt that hit the post and went back into play just two minutes into the game.
Wits sensed that the Brazilians had been forced to alter their game plan following the late replacement of fullback Thapelo Morena, who hurt his hamstring literally as Sundowns finished their pre-match warm up.
Morena, now a doubt for Bafana Bafana’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Seychelles on Saturday, would have given the home side impetus going forward and allowed them to press Thulani Hlatshwayo back into his own half.
But with Motjeka Madisha being pushed wide at rightback and Wayne Arendse coming in for Morena and settling into central defence, skipper Hlatshwayo enjoyed acres of space and was often the provider for knock downs for Wits runners Dzvukamanja, Simon Murray and Lehlohonolo Majoro.
Murray, on a high after his two goals in his first start during midweek when the Clever Boys beat recently crowned MTN8 champions Cape Town City away from home, tested goalkeeper Denis Onyango on the half-hour mark with a perfectly time header. The Ugandan shot-stopper tipped it over for a corner kick. Wits were pretty much in control, with Sundowns’ best chance falling to striker Toni Silva, who forced a save out of Darren Keet.
The second half was a lot different – the Brazilians more assertive, especially after Silva made way for speedster Phakamani Mahlambi. But Wits soon contained their ex-player, although captain Hlompho Kekana had been set up by Gaston Sirino to help Sundowns break the deadlock by then.
With a bit of shade on the pitch after the scorching heat earlier, the tempo of the game seemed to help both sides. Wits continued to fluff their chances and eventually had to rely on a well taken set piece from Keagan Ritchie to draw level. By the end of the match both Majoro, who got his first start of the season, and Murray had made way for Mxolisi Machupu and Deon Hotto upfront for Wits.
There was a controversial moment during referee’s optional time when goalie Keet appeared to handle the ball outside his penalty area when Sibusiso Vilakazi attempted a lob for what would have been the winner.
Downs coach Pitso Mosimane was so livid that he charged at the assistant referee during and after the game believe that Sundowns should have been awarded a free kick and Keet sent off. His counterpart Hunt would have been the happier of the two coaches as the Clever Boys remain top of the Premier League table after nine matches going into the Fifa break.