United miss their chances

2012-02-20 00:00

IT was not the return to Harry Gwala stadium that coach Ernst Middendorp would have hoped for as Maritzburg United were beaten 2-0 by Ajax Cape Town yesterday.

 

Second-half goals from George Akpabio and then Khama Billiat ensured that the Western Cape side would taste PSL victory in Pietermaritzburg for the first time since 2007.

Middendorp and United will have wondered how they did not go into the half-time break at least a goal up, after a frantic end to the first period saw the home side provide numerous threats to the Ajax goal.

Urban Warriors keeper and man of the match Sander Westerveld pulled off a string of fine saves to keep his side on level terms going into the break.

In what appeared to be an evenly contested affair, United started the brighter of the sides and would have their first goal in the eighth minute, but Kurt Lentjies’s shot from the edge of the area was deflected for a corner.

Billiat would have his first impact on the match just nine minutes later when his shot from distance provided United captain and keeper Shu-Aib Walters with his first test of the match, the former Bafana Bafana man tipping over the effort.

Given a start on the right-hand side of midfield, JB Ncubeni was proving a handful for the visiting defence. His pace and trickery created a few promising attacking moves for United, but his final ball lacked accuracy. With Michael Morton and Chillies Madondo breaking up play in midfield, neither side managed to get a hold of the game as attack after attack fizzled out. Madondo was having one of his better games in a United jersey and made a couple of vital tackles and interceptions as his side continued to look like the side more likely to score.

The tie came to life with 10 minutes to go in the first half. Diyo Sibisi’s pile-driving effort from range forced Westerveld into an uncomfortable save. After a defensive header the ball fell for Morton, who dragged his shot left of goal. Just one minute later United were threatening again when a blistering run from left-back Rheece Evans saw him float a ball into the area that was headed away by the Ajax defence. The clearance fell for Lentjies on the edge of the area, who controlled with his chest before placing an effort on goal that was met with a spectacular Westerveld save that had the crowd gasping in disbelief. The spell of attacking pressure continued for Middendorp’s men and moments later a clever pass from Lentjies found Diyo Sibisi in the area, but the angle was too acute and his low shot missed at Westerveld’s near post. Moments later Lentjies was instrumental again as he spotted a dynamic run from Morton, who took one touch before his cracking effort was tipped on to the crossbar by a flying Westerveld as the half drew to a close.

The second period belonged to the visitors as Billiat became more and more influential. His movement on and off the ball, coupled with his soft touch and vision, were proving a handful for the United back four. On the hour mark the Zimbabwean spun his way past two United players before his shot went agonisingly close to Walters’s right-hand upright in what was, at that stage, the chance of the game. As both sides grew frustrated tempers threatened to flair and United right-back Peter Petersen was shown a yellow card for dissent.

But Billiat would ensure that there was to be no stalemate when on 78 minutes he flicked on a ball for substitute Akpabio, who was unmarked in the area and buried a shot that left Walters with no chance.

Middendorp sacrificed Morton for the more attacking Wayne Matle with seven minutes to go in a move that could so easily have paid dividends. With just two minutes to go Matle aimed a placed shot for the top right corner of goal that had Westerveld beat. But in a moment that had the whole of Harry Gwala holding their breath, the ball struck the crossbar and rebounded back into Ajax possession. From the resulting counterattack roles were reversed as Akpabio turned provider to Billiat one-on-one with Walters and sealed the game for the visitors.

“It’s one of those things. We were a bit unlucky, but we need to be a bit sharper in front of goal when we have our chances,” United skipper Shu-Aib Walters said after the match.

The defeat leaves United in 11th place on the log, tied on points with 10th-placed AmaZulu. It doesn’t get any easier for Middendorp’s charges as a difficult fixture against Orlando Pirates at Orlando Stadium awaits on Sunday.

• sport@witness.co.za

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