DURBAN – Maritzburg United gave Orlando Pirates the reason to believe that they can still snatch the Absa Premiership title away from Mamelodi Sundowns as they came back twice to salvage the point in a 2-2 draw on Wednesday night.
Sundowns allowed United to come back twice as they played put to a stalemate at Harry Gwala Stadium.
The point for Sundowns meant that the gap between themselves and their challengers Orlando Pirates is now just four points.
Elsewhere, Pirates thumped the outgoing champions Bidvest Wits 4-0 in their encounter at Orlando Stadium.
Three points would have propelled Sundowns closer to their record eighth league title because they would have needed a point in their two remaining matches. However, as it stands, they are now on 56 points after 28 rounds, while their title challengers are on 52 after an identical number of games.
Pirates will be hoping that Ajax Cape Town and Bloemfontein Celtic will upset Sundowns in their last two matches and win theirs against Cape Town City and Free State Stars.
Sundowns showed their intention from the word go on Wednesday night as Khama Billiat and Percy Tau caused havoc for the United defence with their pace and exuberance upfront. Billiat came close in the third minute, but Richard Ofori produced a spectacular save to deny the Zimbabwean.
The pressure that Sundowns piled on at the early phases of the game finally paid off, as Themba Zwane capitalised from the good work done by Tau on the right-hand side.
Sundowns showed aggression, hunger and will to try and collect the maximum points. Industrious Hlompo Kekana gave Sundowns steel and the control in the middle of the park as he combined well with Oupa Manyisa and Tiyani Mabunda.
The battle between Kekana and United ace midfielder Siphesihle Ndlovu was marvellous to watch. It was one of those battles of the olden days between the two number sixes. The battle ended in Kekana receiving a yellow card.
United took time to find their rhythm and momentum, which is based on a patient build-up, pace and flair. Sundowns didn’t give them room to inter-change passes as they pressed them high.
That tactic proved fruitful as Andrea Fileccia was left isolated upfront. They usually utilise him as the point of reference.
Sundowns made three changes to the team that was thumped 3-1 by United this past weekend in the semi-final of the Nedbank Cup.
Kekana returned to the starting line-up, and Sibusiso Vilakazi made way for him, while Thapelo Morena replaced the injured Anele Ngcongca at right back.
Billiat slotted in the place of suspended Gaston Sirino, who received a red card after scoring his first goal in South Africa.
United finally got going, but didn’t trouble Denis Onyango between the poles. It took a blunder from an unusually suspect in Onyango to bring United back into the match.
Onyango came out of the box in his attempt to clear the ball, but miscued it and Fileccia just past the net in the 33rd minute.
The atmosphere was electric and vibrant as always at Harry Gwala Stadium. The first 20 minutes of the second half didn’t produce a lot of goal-mouth action as both kept their discipline.
Sundowns grew in frustration and they started shooting from range as they couldn’t penetrate through the middle or on the flanks.
Tebogo Langerman looked to have sealed the game for Sundowns after netting a scorcher in the 73rd minute, but Lebohang Maboe broke Masandawana’s heart with the late equaliser in the 87th minute.
United are on course to finish third as they are one point ahead of Kaizer Chiefs.