Gutsy Utd in strong position

2008-06-26 00:00

MARITZBURG United showed character to draw 1-1 against FC AK in the first leg of the National First Division play-off final at Eldorado Park in Johannesburg yesterday, and set themselves up as favourites for promotion to the Premier Soccer League.

In a gutsy display, United fought back from a goal down at half time to equalise through Fadlu Davids in the 58th minute. The PMB team could have won the game had they put away their second-half chances.

United now need a victory in the return leg at Harry Gwala Stadium on Sunday to win the NFD and be promoted. A goalless draw will also suffice, because away goals count double in the event of an aggregate draw.

As could be expected from an experienced combination playing for a place in the PSL, AK gave United plenty of problems.

The prospects for United had not been bright, after a first half in which they were outplayed and conceded a 33rd minute goal scored by AK striker Costa Khaiseb. But the PMB team recovered well, and were easily the stronger team in the second half.

Coach Ian Palmer said his team had been surprised by an attacking 4-3-3 formation employed by AK.

“They played with three strikers and we had to adapt defensively. Unfortunately, we took too long to adjust, and we conceded a goal against the run of play.

“But I think we rectified that in the second half and when we came back I think we were a much better team than them — it’s just that we didn’t use our chances.

“In the first half, we allowed them space in the midfield. The wide players never tucked in, so we tucked them in to eliminate the space.

“And, with those three strikers, we knew they would run out of steam sooner or later. We just rectified ourselves defensively, won the ball and played, That’s what we’re good at.”

Palmer said United will take an attacking approach in the return leg.

“We have to attack — we can’t sit back and defend to try to win on the away goals rule. We have to go on the attack and not concede any goals.”

The coach praised the guts showed by his players to come back from a goal down in a high pressure match.

“That was what brought us until here — it’s the character of the team that we have, it’s the attitude and the confidence of the players that we have, and I must compliment them.”

United started brightly, with Collen Zimba’s snap shot going wide after Fadlu Davids had flicked on Peter Petersen’s long throw in the second minute.

Davids beat his marker and headed well over from Sipho Mngomezulu’s corner in the 19th minute, but then FC AK began to find their attacking rhythm.

Midfielder Lucky Maselesele came close with an effort from range that curled just past the top-left corner of the United goal. Then AK took the lead as Rafique’s long-range shot cannoned off the crossbar and fell to Namibian striker Costa Khaiseb, who took his time to finish easily past Sithole.

United ended the first 45 minutes looking a little overawed and playing in their own half.

It was a different story for the visiting side after the break. After a prolonged period of pressure, Collen Zimba swung in a dangerous, curling free-kick that Davids headed in from close range to equal Reason Chiloane as the NFD’s top scorer.

The striker then just failed to connect to two more dangerous balls into the area, one an exact replica by Zimba from a free-kick on the left, and the other squared across goal by winger Sipho Mngomezulu. With four minutes left, Zimba forced a save from point-blank range, after second-half substitute Tsepo Mokone had flicked on another of Mngomezulu’s long throws.

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