United lose in scrappy affair

2012-12-05 00:00

THERE was drama aplenty at Harry Gwala stadium last night with referee Victor Gomes the centre of attention as Platinum Stars took advantage of a controversial red card for Maritzburg United centre back Mohamed Awal to run out 1-0 winners in a scrappy PSL encounter.

With the score at 0-0, Awal was sent off in the 49th minute when Gomes decided that he had challenged Stars winger Tintswalo Tshabalala with studs up. But Awal had, in fact, gotten to the ball miles before Tshabalala and it was the Ghanaian’s follow through that caught the Stars man.

The decision left Awal in a heap of disbelief on the soggy pitch, and he had barely made his way down the tunnel to a rapturous applause before Stars were awarded a corner.

The home side hadn’t even begun to contemplate life with a man short before Enocent Mkhabela headed in the Patrick Malokase set piece to put the visitors one up while hushing the previously vocal Harry Gwala crowd.

The first half had been scrappy, with both sides committing their fair share of unnecessary fouls. Stars striker Henrico Botes, in particular, was making a nuisance of himself and he was eventually yellow carded in first-half stoppage time when he caught United goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters with a stray elbow to the face.

But while United were the better side in the first half, they failed to draw any decent saves out of Stars keeper Siyabonga Mpontshane.

And with United’s three centre backs dealing with any Stars attacks, Walters was largely a spectator in the first period too.

At half time, United coach Ernst Middendorp brought on the lively Frank Gyamfi for Terrance Mandaza and the young Ghanaian almost instantly began causing trouble for the Stars defence. But just minutes after he was brought on, United were a man down with a mountain to climb.

This is where the game’s tempo escalated, and as United began to go in search of an equaliser, the crowd began to find its voice again.

It is testament to Middendorp’s charges that they never once dropped their heads, but as they pushed forward they left gaps at the back and Stars were afforded a few opportunities to put the game to bed.

Mkhabela made a run from his own half before shooting straight at Walters just past the hour mark, before Sibusiso Msomi blasted a golden opportunity from point blank range over the United goal just four minutes later.

And when Malokase forced Walters into an acrobatic save with a chip from an acute angle on 72 minutes, it appeared Stars were the side more likely to score the game’s second goal.

But United continued to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Stars.

When local favourite Philani Zulu replaced the injured Mthokozisi Yende with 12 minutes to play, the home side began bombarding the Stars defence with long balls in desperation. Playmaker Delron Buckley moved to centre back while Mario Booysen and Byrone Hendricks shifted up field to try and win the aerial battle against the Stars defence.

With five minutes to play and the match pace at a maximum, United had their tails up. But when Zulu’s blasted effort from a failed Stars clearance was agonisingly blocked just off the line, it appeared that it just wasn’t meant to be for United.

The playing fields would be leveled in the last minute of normal time when Msomi was shown a second yellow card for simulation, but even with seven minutes of additional time, United were unable to find a way through. After the match, a visibly disappointed Middendorp highlighted the sending off as crucial to his side’s defeat.

“The decision is absolute nonsense, there is no need to give a red card for that. I don’t want to point fingers, but that decision decides the game. Once it is 10 against 11 it is different.”

Stars coach Cavin Johnson, while pleased with his side’s win, was a little more evasive than Middendorp when it came to discussing the red card.

“All I saw was his [Awal’s] studs in Tshabalala’s groin. I couldn’t tell you if he meant it or not, but the referee was in a better position than me.”

The win lifts Stars to third place ahead of United, who drop to fourth.

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