Maritzburg United secured a valuable point in their DStv Premiership survival bid, as they held champions Mamelodi Sundowns 1-1 at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Tuesday evening.
In a final round match brought forward due to the Brazilians’ CAF Champions League participation on the weekend, the Team of Choice came from behind to secure a share of the spoils thanks to Jose Ali Meza’s equaliser.
The result sees Maritzburg rise to the safety of 14th place on the log, one point ahead of Marumo Gallants (15th, relegation playoff berth) and Chippa United (16th,direct relegation), but the bottom two will have the chance to overtake the KwaZulu-Natal team with their matches on Saturday afternoon.
As for ‘Downs, the result is a somewhat anticlimactic finish to a brilliant league season in which they finished just one point short of the record of 71 points (for a 30-game season) they themselves set in 2015-16.
Maritzburg created most of the early attacking pressure and had a first clear chance just after the quarter hour mark when a fine pass from Tumelo Njoti put Amadou Soukouna into a scoring position, but his shot was well saved by goalkeeper Denis Onyango.
Five minutes later Soukouna ran onto a deflected through ball and got past Onyango down the left of the penalty area before shooting on goal, but he was denied by a brilliant recovery clearance from Mosa Lebusa.
Maritzburg were made to pay for their early missed chances, as Sundowns claimed the lead in the 24th minute. The ball was won in midfield before Surprise Ralani played a one-two with Neo Maema, and then finished with an impudent chip over goalkeeper Renaldo Leaner.
The Brazilians bossed the remainder of the first half, but were unable to add to their lead, leaving the game 1-0 in their favour at halftime.
The Team of Choice almost levelled the game three minutes after the restart, with Bonginkosi Makume’s header from a corner kick tipped onto the crossbar by Onyango, before Mogamad De Goede stabbed wide from the rebound.
Sundowns had a chance to double their advantage on 57 minutes when a swift counter attack put Gaston Sirino free down the right, but he was denied by a fine save from Leaner.
Maritzburg then had chances for Genino Palace and Rowan Human either side of the hour mark, but the former was denied by Onyango, while the latter shot over the target.
The visitors upped their attacking intensity with the introduction of Jose Ali Meza and they were rewarded with an equalising goal from the former Sundowns man in the 71st minute.
A lucky bounce in midfield allowed Human to power forward and put Njoti into space, who in turn played a low ball across the six-yard box to find Meza, with the striker easily finishing into an empty net at the far post for 1-1.
The visitors went into their shell in the wake of their goal, seemingly happy with a point which may yet prove enough to secure outright survival.
Sundowns will go on to face Wydad Casablanca at home in the return leg of their Champions League semifinal tie this weekend, while Maritzburg will learn their final fate on Saturday afternoon from the results of the matches pitting relegation rivals Chippa and Gallants against Golden Arrows and Swallows FC respectively.
Mamelodi Sundowns (1) 1 (Ralani 24’)
Maritzburg United (0) 1 (Meza 71’)
Mamelodi Sundowns: Onyango, Kekana (Ngobeni 83’), Lebusa, Coetzee, Mashego, Allende (Mkhulise 59’), Zungu (Mohamme 82’), Maema, Ralani (Nasir 77’), Mabena (Mailula 59’), Sirino
Maritzburg United: Leaner, Cross, Makume, De Goede, Theron, Njoti, Graham, Palace, Karim (Meza 69’), Human, Soukouna (Moloisane 90+2’)
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