Sundowns hold off gutsy Stellenbosch FC
Themba Zwane scored the decisive goal as second-placed defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns saw off a gutsy Stellenbosch FC 1-0 at Athlone Stadium last night to close the gap on Absa Premiership leaders Kaizer Chiefs to four points with a game in hand over Amakhosi.
The Brazilians fourth consecutive league win puts them on 44 points and in a strong position to hold onto their crown for a third season in a row.
As for Stellies, they stay in 11th place on 27 points, seven clear of bottom-placed Black Leopards with six games to play.
Sundowns made the home side pay nine minutes in for losing possession too easily when Zwane was teed up inside the penalty area by striker Sibusiso Vilakazi for an easy tap-in past veteran goalkeeper Lee-Raoul Langeveldt for his ninth goal of the season.
Stellies debutante Ally Msengi was the guilty party on this occasion and not the best way for the 18-year-old Tanzanian to start his career with the Winelands-based club.
But the homeboys responded well to the deficit and had three solid chances to draw level via the heads of first defender Mogamad de Goede, who narrowly missed the target, then leftwing Ashley du Preez whose execution left something to be desired, before striker Ovidy Karuru wasn’t able to keep his effort down from close range meeting an incoming corner.
The men from Pretoria had to keep their wits about them after going in front to block out a determined fightback from a rival they had beaten 3-1 at home in the reverse fixture. At times the pace of the threats that greeted them down both flanks and long balls over the defensive wall would have caused some anxiety for coach Pitso Mosimane, who said before the game how important it was to win their two catch-up games to keep the pressure on Chiefs.
Stellies were far from overawed mixing it with the champions and could have gone into the break all-square had Du Preez made the most of another two chances is as many minutes to breach Denis Onyango’s net.
And the same old story for the first 20 minutes of the second stanza during which Stellies coach Steve Barker introduced Iqraam Rayners and fellow marksman Ryan Moon to the fray in place of Du Preez and Granwald Scott respectively, as his charges continued to knock on the door.
Karuru went close again minutes after De Goede fluffed a golden opportunity to square matters from yards out when failing to make clean contact with the ball kept in play by forward Lelethu Skelem.
Mosimane had all his three subs on in a bid to hold on for the win and it backfired when left-back Tebogo Langerman went off injured with 15 minutes still to play.
Barker played his final hand by bringing on his top scorer Waseem Isaacs for the last 10 minutes, but his boys had to settle for no points after De Goede came close to grabbing a draw deep into stoppage time but denied by a fine save by Onyange.