Relegation takes an up-turn

2009-03-15 00:00

THE results might not quite have gone Maritzburg United’s way yesterday, but the team’s relegation concerns continue to take a significant up-turn after an impressive 1-0 Premier Soccer League victory over Santos at Woodburn Stadium on Saturday.

United notched up a third league and cup victory in a row, and moved above struggling Thanda Royal Zulu, 2-0 losers against Orlando Pirates at King’s Park on Saturday, to 13th place.

United were dominant throughout against Santos, but a fired-up and polished second-half performance served notice that the team might be coming into form again.

Yesterday second-last Bloemfontein Celtic beat Golden Arrows 1-0 at Griffons Rugby Stadium to remain within four points of United.

After a cautious approach in the first half, United took the game to a Santos team notoriously tough to break down at the back.

The PMB team were rewarded when the powerful 32-metre shot of winger Sipho Mngomezulu, on for injured Tony Tsabedze early in the first half, took a wicked deflection and flew past stranded goalkeeper Wayne Roberts in the 71st minute.

“It was another big won for us,” United coach Gordon Igesund said last night. “The team fought very hard and they really kept their discipline and stuck to the tactics.

“We never allowed Santos, who are a good counter-attacking team, to hit us on the break in any area.”

Igesund said he had a firm word with the players at half time after a dominant, though cautious, approach in the first half.

“In the first half we didn’t play the ball on the ground. I gave the players, not so much a rollicking, but a talking too and said they were playing not to lose, and rather go out and play to win.

“I don’t think we were playing badly but I also don’t think we would have broken Santos down if we’d continued like we were.

“In the second half we go behind the defence — especially Fanyana Dhladhla, even though his final pass wasn’t quite coming off.

“In the end we could have scored two or three more and I think it was a fantastic performance.”

With Sylla Mbemba growing into his defensive midfield role and a number of players, such as Dhladhla, Bageta Dikilu, Mngomezulu and Collen Zimba, finding their form, Igesund has options available to him in United’s last six games.

“I might sound like a tape recorder but this team has still only played 24 games together, and now things are coming together. We’ve sorted out the defence and the goalkeepers, both Tashreeq [Goldman] and Michael [Babale], have given us a new stability there.”

While it was Mngomezulu’s goal that won the game, Zimba, as a substitute for Fadlu Davids in the 56th minute, was the game-breaker United needed to break down Santos’s five-man defence.

“It was the right sort of platform for Collen to come on with the way we had played in the first half, with the way he can hold the ball up, and with his close control and his skills,” Igesund said.

United’s best chance of the first half came in the 11th minute when John Arwuah’s shot through a crowded area beat Roberts and was cleared off the line by Mogogi Gabonamong.

In the 34th minute Dhladhlaís looping effort was palmed over by Roberts.

Zimba, his confidence suddenly on a high after some lively performances of late, was put through by Brice Aka soon after his introduction and squeezed a shot past his marker that was well saved by Roberts.

From the resultant corner Gary Goldstone headed Zimba’s corner just over.

Babale also played his role in goal, pulling off good saves from Ryan Chapman’s effort in the first half and a shot by Bonginkosi Macala with 10 minutes to go.

United play Santos again on Friday night in the Nedbank Cup, then Wits University in the league on Tuesday at Woodburn.

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