Mamelodi Sundowns wrapped up their DStv Premiership work for 2021 with a 1-1 draw against Marumo Gallants at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Thursday.
The Brazilians were lacking their usual spark and verve, with the effects of a brutal schedule this month (seven games in 19 days) clearly taking its toll.
Nonetheless, the champions hold a commanding 15-point lead over nearest chasers Stellenbosch FC (Orlando Pirates or AmaZulu could reduce that to 14 in their late clash) and a record-extending fifth straight league crown is theirs to lose when the season resumes in February 2022.
Bahlabane ba Ntwa, meanwhile, remain in 11th place – six points clear of the relegation playoff zone.
Sundowns almost claimed the lead as early as the second minute, with Andile Jali’s smart through ball finding the run of Aubrey Modiba, who had his stabbed shot smothered by Gallants goalkeeper King Ndlovu.
The shot-stopper was in action again in the eighth minute, plucking Modiba’s well-hit shot out of the air as the Brazilians continued their search for an early advantage.
On 13 minutes Gallants had their first threat on goal, with Sibusiso Kumalo providing a dangerous low ball from the right which had Ndabayithethwa Ndlondlo hitting the upright from close range.
Sundowns then reasserted control, but were somewhat unlucky to concede a penalty just after the half-hour mark when Katlego Otladisa’s attempted cross from the right of the box hit the hand of Ricardo Nascimento.
Ndlondlo confidently beat goalkeeper Ricardo Goss from the spot to put Bahlabane ba Ntwa 1-0 up on 32 minutes.
Just three minutes later ‘Downs drew level: Thapelo Morena’s low cross from the right was only half cleared and Lesedi Kapinga provided a classy finish, putting a defender on his rear with a dummy before firing the ball home for 1-1.
On 39 minutes Sundowns defender Brian Onyango was inches away from putting the hosts ahead for the first time, with his header from a corner kick cleared off the line by Lebohang Mabotja.
Locked at a goal apiece at the break, both teams looked to pick up in the second half where they left off in the first, with Sundowns enjoying more of the ball and looking to get their passing game into top gear, while Gallants mixed a press with quick, vertical passing.
The Brazilians struggled to create scoring chances in the second half and opted for a tactical switch with 20 minutes remaining, swopping out fullback Lyle Lakay for forward Gift Motupa, who sent a snap shot wide of the mark within seconds of his arrival.
Gallants were forced onto the back foot in the dying minutes of the match, with the hosts pushing forward in search of a winning goal, though it was Bahlabane ba Ntwa who nearly claimed a late goal against the run of play when Ndlondlo whipped a shot just wide in an 87th-minute counter attack.
The teams are scheduled to return to DStv Premiership action in mid-February 2022 – after the Africa Cup of Nations – with Sundowns at home to Chippa United and Gallants at home to Baroka FC.
Mamelodi Sundowns (1) 1 (Kapinga 35’)
Marumo Gallants (1) 1 (Ndlondlo 32’ pen)
Sundowns: Goss, Morena, B. Onyango, Nascimento, Lakay (Motupa 70’), Jali (Vilakazi 90+3’), Mkhulise (Maluleka 78’), Zwane, Modiba, Kapinga (Maema 78’), Shalulile
Gallants: Ndlovu, Nkili, Nonyane, Mvelase, Mabotja, Malongoane, Timm, Ndlondlo, Kumalo (Gumede 80’), Otladisa (Makudubela 80’), Lamola.
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