Simon Murray scored his fourth goal for Wits to clinch victory in the Telkom Knockout against Free State Stars. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Bidvest Wits’ Telkom Knockout title defence aspirations were kept alive as they recorded a slender 1-0 victory over bogey team Free State Stars on Saturday afternoon at Goble Park in the opening round of the competition.

In a game of two halves – where Wits dominated the first, while Stars the second – the home side were the most unfortunate as two of their attempts came off the woodwork.

The Clever Boys’ were without regulars as they participated in the recent international duty.

As a result, Wits coach Gavin Hunt made four changes to the team that played in their last league encounter against Mamelodi Sundowns – Lehlohonolo Nonyane, Haashim Domingo, Deon Hotto and Mxolisi Macuphu all started ahead of Sifiso Hlanti, Terrence Dzvukamanja, Keegan Ritchie and Lehlohonolo Majoro.

But even without those, the side from Braamfontein was tipped as favourites to win this encounter after already having thumped Stars in the opener of the season.

And with barely a minute into the match, the Clever Boys proved why they are atop of the league standings as striker Simon Murray put them ahead.

After a low-drive attempt at goal by Hotto, the ball found an unmarked Murray, who calmly controlled before slotting past goalkeeper Badra Sangare.

After that, the visitors started to dictate play, as they created a number of clear-cut chances but their forwards’ finishing let them down.

At some stage, Hotto should have doubled the lead as he had only the keeper to beat but his attempted curler ballooned into the stands.

As Wits were squandering their chances on the other end, the home side were slowly gaining momentum through talisman Linda Bhengu.

Bhengu, together Harris Tchilimbou also had a minimal of chances to equalise for Ea Lla Koto in the first stanza, but their finishing couldn’t get the better of goalkeeper Darren Keet.

Ea Lla Koto’s persistence for an equalise nearly paid off in the opening stages of the second half as Goodman Dlamini’s low-drive shot at goal came off the upright of the post with Keet well beaten, and able to recover on the rebound.

That failed attempt by Dlamini didn’t deprive them off the bigger picture though, as they continued to press Wits down the right flank through Sinethemba Jantjie, who was giving debutant Nonyane a hard time.

To ensure that Jantjie’s deliveries found support in the box, coach Luc Eymael brought in fresh legs Judas Moseamedi and Sibusiso Masina for Bhengu and Tchilimbou respectively.

Both talismen nearly levelled matters for their side.

At some point, Moseamedi cleverly beat his marker, but only for the former Cape Town City’s man to fluff that chance over the bar.

Moments later, Masina created space for himself just outside the 18-area, pulled a thunderbolt that beat Keet, but not the woodwork, and only for Moseamedi’s attempt in the rebound charged offside.

IOL Sport