Cape Town – Champions Mamelodi Sundowns earned a record 11th consecutive clean sheet after defeating a determined Maritzburg United side 1-0 in their DStv Premiership clash at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Tshwane, on Wednesday evening, after a goalless first half.
The result allows Sundowns to open up a three-point lead at the top of the standings, ahead of second-placed Stellenbosch who have played one match more. Maritzburg are now in 11th place on 10 points.
Sundowns, fresh from bagging a record 20th championship title in the PSL era following their MTN8 conquest at the weekend, enjoyed an overwhelming 64% possession in the first half. However, they returned to the dressing rooms empty-handed at the break after a bland performance in the opposition goalmouth.
At the outset, the Maritzburg served notice that they will be serious challengers as they chased down every ball. This tactic tended to cramp Sundowns’ style, and they were forced to settle for patient build-ups.
With attacking midfielder Themba Zwane orchestrating their attacks, Sundowns channelled most of their penetrative sorties down the left and central channels. Their onslaughts lost their sting in the final third, and as a result, they hardly fired a shot at goal in the first half.
In a rare first-half shot at goal, their ace goalscorer Peter Shalulile turned his marker inside out in the Maritzburg goalmouth but once he shook off the shackles, he shot wastefully high over the crossbar.
Midway through the half, the pace picked up a fair bit, making for an end-to-end affair in which Maritzburg were more threatening. They managed to worm their way past the defence in the channels out wide on the right, but Sundowns' central defence contained the threat by clearing the goalmouth crosses with contemptuous ease.
When second-half play resumed, Sundowns induced a fresh sense of urgency into their play and in the opening seven minutes, Maritzburg's German-born goalkeeper Marcel Engelhardt was forced to make two saves as his supporting defence battled to contain the threat.
This was the cue for an imminent strike and Shalulile provided a touch of magic with a well-taken scoring volley after Sundowns sprung an attack from deep options. After an upfield kick that cleared Maritzburg's rearguard, Shalulile outsprinted the retreating defence and fired his attempt well clear of Engelhardt who was way out of position.
On the hour mark, Maritzburg striker Lifa Hlongwane came within a whisker of scoring, but his parting shot was fractionally wide.
Meanwhile, in another Wednesday evening match, MTN8 runners-up Cape Town City returned to Premiership action on a victorious note with a 1-0 win visiting Chippa United at the DHL Stadium in Green Point.
City's Nigerian midfielder Abdul Ajagun scored a goal a minute ahead of the final whistle after latching on to a feed from 'Surprise' Ralani.
The outcome will see City from 11th place to eighth place with 12 points. Chippa will remain marooned in 14th and are six points adrift of City.