United earn tough draw

2008-09-28 00:00

IT may not have been the most convincing performance, but Maritzburg United did what was required to preserve their unbeaten record in the Premier Soccer League with a 1-1 draw against Bloemfontein Celtic at the Free State Stadium yesterday.

Three matches down, and three without a defeat for United on their return to the PSL shows the team are not just in the league to make up the numbers. As do the guts and determination that are becoming the hallmark of this new-look side at the start of the season.

It is still very early days, and to judge league positions after just three matches is near pointless. But by fighting tooth and nail for a draw United managed their objective, as stated by captain Bageta Dikilu last week, of staying in the top five. On five points from three games, United are in fourth place.

This certainly betters the poor start made by some of the more illustrious teams, most notably Orlando Pirates who have gone three matches without a win following their 2-0 upset against Bay United in Port Elizabeth yesterday, and are bottom of the log. In yesterday’s other game AmaZulu beat Thanda Royal Zulu 1-0 in KwaMashu.

It wasn’t always pretty by Maritzburg United. In fact, at times it was decidedly un-pretty. But an unbeaten record in their first three matches against Ajax Cape Town (1-1 away), Chiefs (3-2 win at home) and Celtic (0-0 away), is not to be sniffed at.

Nor is United’s defensive organisation, willingness to throw themselves into the challenge and ability to unnerve opponents and disturb their rhythm through close-physical contact and closing down spaces.

Not that yesterday’s draw, always a decent result in the Free State capital, was all down to the United defence. Celtic will be kicking themselves for not finishing off some good chances to notch up their first victory of the season.

If United coach Gordon Igesund’s gameplan was to absorb pressure and hit Celtic on the counter-attack, it did not quite come off. United spent more time absorbing than countering.

But the PMB team’s dangerous attack of Brice Aka, Fadlu Davids and on-form right-wing Sipho Mngomezulu did produce a few nervous moments for Celtic.

In the last 10 minutes a half-chance to Aka, then even better opportunity to Lucky Maselesele from a square-ball by Mngomezulu, could have snatched victory for United. Substitute Maselesele opted to control rather than shoot first time, and gave away the ball.

United held their own in the first half, despite being stretched by some determined attacking. The best chance fell to dangerous Celtic forward Mark Mayambela, who beat Sylla Mbemba with a superb touch but his shot rebounded off the face of goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap, who did well to close down the angle.

United looked dangerous at the start of the second half, with Aka slipping an angled shot well wide.

Slowly, though, Celtic gained control and gaps started opening in the United defence, though the Free State team did not manage a killer breakthrough.

United’s defence, and midfield anchor John Arwuah, put their bodies on the line to mostly keep Celtic out. A goal-line challenge by left-back Elias Ngwepe at the feet of Geofrey Sserunkuma in the 66th minute kept United in the game.

A goal by Nigerian striker Abayomi Adebayor (48th minute) and stunning strike by ex-United winger Luntu Mazana (90th) sank Pirates. It was newly-promoted Bay United’s most famous victory in their first match of the season played at home in PE.

For AmaZulu, Bradley Ritson, the new young striker from Durban amateur club Stella, buried a cracking right-footed finish in the eighth minute after being put through into the area by a pass by Jan Sillo.

RESULTS

Saturday: SuperSport United 1 Mamelodi Sundowns 1, Kaizer Chiefs 2 Ajax Cape Town 0, Lamontville Golden Arrows 1 Platinum Stars 1

Yesterday: Bloemfontein Celtic 0 Maritzburg United 0, Bay United 2 Orlando Pirates 0, AmaZulu 1 Thanda Royal Zulu 0

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