CAPE TOWN – Highlands Park made a winning start to 2020 after scoring a 2-1 win over Black Leopards in their Absa Premiership match at the Makhulong Stadium, Tembisa, on Sunday afternoon.
The winners could easily have doubled their goal tally after at least two attempts were thwarted by the woodwork. Leopards' dubious efforts in defence allowed Highlands so much time on the ball in the striking zone.
The match was off to a rousing start as both teams set out with pace. There was a greater sense of urgency in Highlands' ranks and Leopards' defence conceded a 3rdminute corner which was effectively dealt with.
Highlands midfielder Lindokuhle Mbatha made a strong run down the middle in the 8th minute. After slipping past three defenders unleashed a shot at goal but Jonas Mendes, Leopards' Guinea-Bissauan goalkeeper, coolly collected to avert danger.
Namibian Peter Shalulile should have opened the scoring for Highlands but was eventually denied by the crossbar. After he ran on to a through ball, he rounded Mendes and then footed fresh air as he lost his balance in front of an empty net. He managed a strike in a second attempt but struck the upright in the 24th minute.
Four minutes later, Highlands finally cracked the opening goal after a hectic goalmouth melee in which Leopards failed to clear the ball after three attempts. The ball eventually spilt invitingly for Mothobi Mvala who cracked a low drive through the packed defence and the ball went in off the upright after a deflection (1-0).
Mvala was in the picture again three minutes later when he cleared the ball off the goal line after his goalkeeper Marlon Heugh was caught out of position.
Peter Shalulile engineered Highlands next goal in the 36th minute after he did well to prevent the ball from crossing the by-line. Once he warded off the attentions of Leopards' defence, he reeled in a goalmouth cross which was well met by Reneilwe Letsholonyane but Mendes pushed his scoring effort clear. However, Mokete Mogai pounced on the stray ball for his side's second goal.
With two goals in the bag, Highlands showed far more composure as they dealt with Leopards' fightback ahead of the halftime break.
In the opening 20 minutes of the second half play was also played at great pace and during this time play swung like a pendulum from one end to the other. Hardly any scoring chances emerged, and Leopards seemed complacent when there were opportunities for a shot at goal.
During this phase of play, Highlands had two cracking shots at goal, but Mendes was equal to the task.
Leopards had their share of possession, but their midfield were unable to strike up cohesion with their frontrunners and Highlands' defence managed to contain the threat.
Later in the match, Leopards' best scoring chance emerged in the 76th minute from a set-piece but Edwin Gyimah's curling free-kick from outside the penalty area was fractionally wide at a time when Marlon Heugh, the Highlands keeper, would have been well out of position.
Three minutes from the end, Leopards were thrown a lifeline when Themba Ndlovu was fouled plumb in front of Highlands' goal. Zambian Musonda Mwape made no mistake from the 'spot' for a 2-1 scoreline.
In the remaining time, a tense finish played out as Leopards came within a whisker of snatching an equalizer.
After the match, Highlands Park midfielder Lindokuhle Mbatha was named ‘Man of the Match’.