Sundowns made to work hard to maintain unbeaten run
JOHANNESBURG – Mamelodi Sundowns fought hard to keep their unbeaten run in the Absa Premiership intact as a resilient Black Leopards pushed them until the end at Thohoyandou Stadium.
The Brazilians’ dominant start was cancelled out by Leopards’ comeback in the second half – turning what was a one-sided affair into an entertaining contest that kept supporters on the edge of their seats until the final whistle.
But when Sundowns took the lead, it looked like a thumping was on the cards as Leopards were disjointed and uninspiring. Jose Ali Meza might still be searching for his first goal in the domestic league, but his talent is undoubted.
The Venezuelan weaved his magic, twisting and turning Isaac Masia before whipping a delicious pass to Themba Zwane whose deft touch beat an army of Leopards’ defenders who were ball-watching.
The early goal unsettled the hosts in what was coach Luc Eymael’s first match in charge of Lidoda Duvha. He hadn’t received his work permit when Leopards took on Bloemfontein Celtic on Sunday. It was quite fitting that his start was at the club’s slaughterhouse, against the reigning Absa Premiership champions.
The Belgian has a tough challenge ahead of him in turning Leopards around from a team that flirts with relegation to a side that can fight for a place in the top eight. Testing themselves against the best team in the country will only strengthen the side. But that fight will be made easier with the best home support in the country.
Leopards’ supporters came in their numbers like they always do at Thohoyandou Stadium. But it was the visiting fans who had a lot to cheer about. Just before the halftime mark, goalkeeper Jonas Mendes picked the ball from his own net for the second time. This time around he was beaten by his teammate, Chris Katjiukua who directed Gaston Sirino’s cross into his own net. Sundowns were comfortable, mauling the toothless Leopards.
Mwape Musonda, who played a starring role in Leopards’ fight for promotion two seasons ago and in the play-offs they won, woke up the home fans with a thunderous strike. The Zambian striker unleashed a venomous shot that brought back Lidoda Duvha to life.
The hosts piled on the pressure after his strike, putting Sundowns under the cosh. It was a dramatic turnaround for the home team, going from timid cats to deadly Leopards.
Eymael's side was a different team in the second half. They attacked with purpose and made Sundowns uncomfortable. In the first half they had allowed the Tshwane side to walk all over them, to a point that this match looked like it stopped being a contest going into the break.
Musonda had other ideas, inspiring his team to show that they still have a fight within them. But the Brazilians, thanks to their CAF Champions League experience, managed to weather the storm and manage the game to return from Thohoyandou with three points.
Black Leopards (0) 1
Mamelodi Sundowns (2) 2
Zwane 25, Katjiukua 45