CAPE TOWN – Mamelodi Sundowns stretched their lead at the top of the PSL with a 1-0 win over Cape Town City at a packed Athlone Stadium on Friday night. But, for the Capetonians, it was the same old story; possession they had a plenty, but again they lacked a cutting edge in attack and, denuded of a reliable marksman, they simply cannot buy a goal at this point in time.
As it is, Sundowns go seven clear at the top on 38 points, followed by City on 31 and Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates both on 30 points.
Sundowns certainly won’t worry too much that they struggled to make headway all night; the points are in the bag. And, to be brutally honest, despite dominating the ball and territory, a blunt City were so bereft of spark and creativity up front, they could have played for another week and they still wouldn’t have scored.
As much as the opening 45 minutes was characterised by flowing, absorbing action, it was also laced with drama and controversy – and, as usual, referee Victor Gomes was at the centre of it all. Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane was sent off by Gomes in the 27th minute after he had a few words with the referee to question the awarding of a foul.
The match official clearly wasn’t happy with whatever Mosimane said and the coach was quickly ejected from his place on the bench. This proved to be the start of the frustration and loss of discipline by the PSL’s log leaders – because they proceeded to play second fiddle to City for the entire half. The Pretoria club made the mistake of focusing more on the referee and his decisions, rather than paying more attention to their own game.
City, in contrast, had come out to do a job. The game plan was certainly effective; it was particularly out wide where Craig Martin and Lyle Lakay were doing great work, which prevented Sundowns’ flank defenders from pushing forward in attack. And so, with Thapelo Moreno and Tebogo Langerman stuck at the back, Sundowns found it difficult to go forward to launch any offensive moves from wide positions. As such, all the opportunities accrued to City: Lakay threatened with a slaloming run, Sibusiso Masina couldn’t sort out his feet when he had a chance in the five-yard area, and Lakay had a shot saved at the near post by Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango.
Onyango, in fact, was very lucky to stay on the pitch. Four minutes before half-time, City’s Thabo Nodada was clean through on goal, but Onyango rushed out and lunged a high, dangerous boot in fouling the midfielder. Gomes gave the keeper the benefit of the doubt by issuing a yellow card, but it should perhaps have been red. Just to demonstrate the brutality of Onyango’s challenge, it left Nodada severely injured and he was unable to continue in the second half, and replaced by Ayanda Patosi.
Sundowns, though, were clearly instructed at half-time to concentrate on the football and nothing else. Three minutes into the second half, they finally found some impetus in attack – and it was the effervescent Percy Tau who made things happen. The Sundowns forward skipped clear down the left flank, leaving a host of City defenders in his wake, and, when the cross came in, it was Khama Billiat who finished with fantastic volley.
Despite going behind, City continued to dominate, but Patosi fired an innocuous shot that failed to trouble Onyango, and both Roland Putsche and Thami Mkhize hoofed opportunities over the bar. The Cape side’s ascendancy in attack was particularly the result of Lakay doing damage down the left, so Sundowns responded by beefing up that area, taking off striker Jeremie Brockie and bringing on defender Motjeka Madisha to try and nullify the speedy winger.
In the 70th minute, Gomes again showed that he is a referee who won’t tolerate abuse from the bench – this time, it was City’s turn as goalkeeper-coach Brian van der Heever was sent to the stands for mouthing off at the officials.
Gomes had the last word, too, as he red-carded City captain Robyn Johannes in the final moments of the game.