ATTERIDGEVILLE – Mamelodi Sundowns are hardly ever jittery at this venue. Maybe when it’s a crunch continental tie, but even then the Brazilians know they will always score and give the opposition enough of a headache to just edge it.
It was a 2-2 draw in the end on Wednesday night against a Baroka FC side desperately trying to avoid returning to the lower division at the end of this month, and Sundowns were never comfortable in their own backyard.
There were countless elementary mistakes, particularly at the back, and it may have been the reason why coach Pitso Mosimane substituted left back Mzikayise Mashaba at halftime, bringing on Fares Hachi, who was returning from suspension.
The nerves were not necessarily because of the result in Bethlehem, where Bidvest Wits, log leaders prior to the 7.30pm kickoff, were trailing to bogey side Free State Stars at Goble Park. As things stood, Sundowns would go top of the table thanks to their superior goal difference. But it wasn’t to be at the sound of the final whistle.
Sundowns had looked unsettled from the beginning, although Mosimane had gone with the same starting line-up that was so convincing in the 2-0 win away to Orlando Pirates on Sunday afternoon to keep the “heartbeat” of the Absa Premiership title race alive.
They had to keep winning to catch Wits and confirm that their quest to retain their championship would go right down to the wire, with now only two matches remaining.
There, jitters explained.
After all, Sundowns will feel they have had their fair share of poor results already in this title race when they didn’t win any of their five matches in all competitions late in March and at the beginning of April, before bouncing back with five straight league victories to claw their way up the table.
With Wits losing, they had to win when they were hosting struggling Baroka.
Sundowns got off to an ideal start when Khama Billiat stroked the ball home from a Thapelo Morena cross in the sixth minute. And they had scored a second just before halftime after a horror back pass from Mzwanele Mahashe proved too difficult for his teammate and goalkeeper Oscarine Masuluke to clear.
Mahashe made amends seconds later, scoring at the other end to pull one back before the two teams went into recess. Sundowns dominated for a large portion of the second half, but were still frazzled, even more so when Wits were being taken to the cleaners at Goble Park.
And then, right at the death, referee Thando Ndzandzeka awarded a penalty to Baroka, having adjudged Morena to have had his hand in an unnatural position when the ball was played high.
Richard Matloga kept his nerves to blast the ball past keeper Denis Onyango and earn a precious draw for the visitors here, while Sundowns dropped points at home for a second successive game following the 2-2 draw against Platinum Stars here last week.
Wits, with two matches to go, remained top of the log and two points clear despite defeat on the road.
This title race is bonkers!