At last, a win for Middendorp

2012-03-03 00:00

IT may not have been the prettiest of matches, but Maritzburg United coach Ernst Middendorp was given his first win since returning to the club when his side laboured to a 2-0 win over Bloemfontein Celtic in last night’s Nedbank Cup last 32 encounter at the Harry Gwala Stadium.

The game seemed destined to be decided from the penalty spot before two extra time goals from substitute JB Ncubeni and then striker Diyo Sibisi ensured victory.

United seemed shaky in defence in the early stages of the match with regular centre back Byrone Hendricks suspended and replaced by the inexperienced David Booysen. But as shaky as United were, they nearly took the lead in the fifth minute when a Kurt Lentjies free kick from wide out right deceived Celtic keeper Thabani Stemmer, who had to make a good save to tip the ball over his top left hand corner.

The United defence would continue to struggle and when Celtic striker Clifford Mulenga missed a golden opportunity to score after linking up well with partner Lennox Bacela on 13 minutes, it seemed as though it would be a long night for United.

But the Team of Choice managed to keep Celtic out for long enough for their defence to get into the game. Centre back Mor Diouf was solid in the air while Booysen grew in stature.

It was not a pretty picture moving forward for United, who were finding it difficult to break down a Celtic defence that was largely protected by holding midfielder Buhle Mkhwanazi. United would not test Stemmer for the remainder of the half and were given a nervy moment when Celtic took a quick corner with keeper Francis Chansa out of his goalposts. Rheece Evans was on hand to clear the ball off the line and when Mulenga missed another golden opportunity on his left foot four minutes before half time, Middendorp would have been happy to go into the break level.

The second half brought about much of the same for United, who offered little moving forward and Celtic enjoyed the majority of the half chances. With 65 minutes gone, Middendorp replaced Wayne Matle with Ncubeni in move that saw Lentjies assume a more central position behind Sibisi and Ncubeni replace Lentjies out left.

With just 15 minutes remaining, the United defence were made to scramble once more when Chansa parried a ball that fortuitously fell to Middendorp’s second substitute, Chillies Madondo, who cleared the ball away from danger.

The game heated up when Celtic left back Tsietsie Mahoa was only shown a yellow card for bringing down Ncubeni on the edge of the area — the resulting free kick amounting to nothing.

That was the last real action of the 90 and the sides were forced into extra time.

It was not to be Mulenga’s day, as a defensive mix-up between United central midfielder Michael Morton and left back Thabang Matuka left the striker one-on-one with Chansa, only to blast his effort over the bar.

Morton was a picture of exhaustion but never stopped running, making some crucial tackles and interceptions on his way to a man of the match performance.

In the 100th minute of the match, Middendorp would see his side score for the first time in 370 minutes this year when Ncubeni buried home a shot from a Lentjies cross that made it 1-0 and sent Harry Gwala hysterical.

As Celtic went in search of a winner the match opened up and there were chances at both ends. But it was all put to bed when Lentjies did brilliantly on the right hand side to pick out Sibisi, who made no mistake and put the result beyond doubt.

Middendorp praised Morton’s performance after the match. “There was nobody who deserved it more; he was fantastic and took charge,” the coach said. “He is an example for the other players.”

While satisfied with the result, Middendorp added that there is still a lot for his side to improve on. “We need to keep ball possession longer and get things moving when we are moving forward,” he added.

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