JOHANNESBURG - It wasn’t the most exhilarating of Absa Premiership matches, but then again there hasn’t been much excitement at this venue for reigning champions Bidvest Wits this season.
What mattered though were the three points, which will go a long way in helping the Clever Boys consolidate a place in the top eight after they won 2-1. For Maritzburg United it was an opportunity missed to cut the lead at the top to just two points, although Mamelodi Sundowns – the log leaders – as well as second placed Orlando Pirates only play on Wednesday night.
The game itself was flat as the gloomy, rainy weather prior to kick-off, Wits breaking the deadlock fairly early in the first half to try liven things up.
That was about as entertaining as it got. It was a sweetly struck free kick just a few yards outside the Maritzburg penalty area after a foul was committed.
Keegan Ritchie, in a rare appearance for Wits since joining them in January, beat goalkeeper Richard Ofori having gone for both power and placement to rattle the net.
The visitors lacked a bit of bite on the night, something that’s been the reason behind their impressive run this season as they defy the odds and try take the title race right down to the wire – just waiting for pounce should Sundowns or Pirates slip up.
Unfortunately they were the ones that dropped points here on the night against a Wits side that sat quite deep in the second half to hold on to their lead until they were forced to attack again when substitute Mohau Mokate equalised, having replaced defender Siyanda Xulu at during the halftime break to give Maritzburg some impetus going forward.
Wits were extremely physical and used that to their advantage to win some duels in midfield and at the back where the captain Thulani Hlatshwayo and Buhle Mkhwanazi used that to their benefit against the petit attacking line of their visitors.
With Mokate having cancelled out Ritchie’s first half goal, Wits searched for the winner and got one when Mkhwanazi headed home Elias Pelembe’s delivery with seven minutes left on the clock – the goal all but guaranteeing a place in the top eight.
It was another well-taken goal, but one goalkeeper Ofori will be disappointed to have let in given how good he has been with keeping clean sheets this season.
Prior to the game, Maritzburg were enjoying the best defensive record along with Kaizer Chiefs, but now Amakhosi are the sole holders of that notable statistic.
Coach Fadlu Davids will have to dust themselves off ahead of their next game at home against Cape Town City on Saturday.
Their win over Bloemfontein Celtic over the weekend to progress to the semifinals of the Nedbank Cup perhaps proved too energy sapping as they didn’t seem to have much left in the tank to face the reigning champions Wits, who are also still reeling from their poor start to the defence of their title and are looking for a top eight finish as consolation.