A fierce United held to draw

2013-04-18 00:00

IN what was probably the most exciting game of football seen at Harry Gwala Stadium this season, Maritzburg United blew the lead twice to draw 2-2 with Golden Arrows last night.

The heat and humidity reminded the healthy crowd that this was a KwaZulu-Natal derby, and the match started at the frantic pace often associated with such occasions.

United coach Ernst Middendorp had made changes to the side that lost to SuperSport United on Saturday.

Mohamed Awal, through either injury or an absence of form, was left out as Byrone Hendricks and Mario Booysen marshalled a conventional four-man defensive line.

There was also a return to the starting lineup for midfield workhorse Michael Morton as well as winger Orlando Smeekes, who made his first start since November after recovering from a horrific foot break.

For once, United were able to capitalise on a good start. Out of the blocks like a seasoned sprinter, United were all over Arrows right from the first whistle. Just nine minutes in, a delightful ball over the top of the Arrows defence from Delron Buckley found Smeekes, who had beaten the offsides trap for all money.

The Dutchman needed just one touch before blasting the ball past a helpless Nkosi Gumede in the Arrows goal in what was a moment rich in emotion, highlighted by Smeekes running straight towards the United technical team that worked tirelessly on getting him back onto the pitch this sesason.

Buckley, criticised in recent weeks, was immense in the first half. His soft feet and seemingly limitless vision reminded United fans what he is capable of, and United could have increased their lead in the first half had Zimbabwean striker Cuthbert Malajila made more of Buckley’s outstanding service.

Malajila did find the back of the net once in the first half, but he was rightly ruled offsides. As the opening period grew older, Arrows began to get more of the ball, but they were still reliant on shots from distance.

But on the stroke of half time, a mistake from Hendricks allowed Masonwabe Bovu all the time in the world to equalise, but the tame shot hardly troubled Walters.

At half time, both coaches turned to their bench. Middendorp brought on Terrance Mandaza for goalscorer Smeekes, while Manqoba Mngqithi brought on striker Bonginkosi Ntuli for Norman Smith.

And out of nowhere, just after the second half had kicked off, it was 1-1. Ntuli strolled through a napping United defence to find himself one-on-one with Shu-Aib Walters before blasting the ball into the roof of the net.

United did respond well, and only the woodwork denied Dillon Sheppard after an expertly curled free kick.

In the 56th minute, United’s Zimbabwean connection was at it again.

Mandaza did well to receive a long ball before bursting down the right flank. When he squared his ball for Malajila, it appeared as though the Arrows defence had it covered.

But Malajila slid in bravely at the far post to put his side back in front much to the delight of the Harry Gwala faithful.

By this stage, the match was virtually on fire, and as Arrows went in search of an equaliser, United were given opportunities to hit them on the counter.

Ntuli had a golden opportunity to level matters after Walters came for and missed a cross. But the strikers effort, with an open goal waiting, was dismally hit over the bar.

But Ntuli silenced the crowd in stoppage time, when he pounced on a save from Walters to bury the rebound before wheeling off in celebration.

United and Middendorp will be kicking themselves after a match in which they were better than their opposition. But it was the away side that finished stronger. The draw leaves United fifth on the PSL log.

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