Ajax draw shrinks United’s log hopes

2013-05-13 00:00

LOCAL lad Mabhuti Khenyeza left Maritzburg United with a slim chance of finishing in the top eight of this year’s PSL season on Saturday.

The 30-year-old Ajax Cape Town striker fired in from close range in the 65th minute to cancel out Dutchman Orlando Smeekes’s earlier goal in the first half, which was dominated by United.

In a dull first half, the Team of Choice held a slight advantage as former Ajax star Dillon Sheppard sent in cross after cross from the left as they looked to break the deadlock.

But with the towering Matthew Booth in the heart of the Urban Warriors defence, Sheppard’s crosses were dealt with.

United broke the deadlock when Zimbabwean striker Cuthbert Malajila beat the offside trap to set up Smeekes, who was one-on-one with the ‘keeper.

The Dutchman calmly lifted the ball over the head of compatriot and former Liverpool hero Sander Westerveld to put United in front.

After the goal, United looked the better side as they searched for a second, while Ajax coach Muhsin Ertugral threw a tantrum in his technical area on the side of the pitch.

In the second half, two different teams came out of the changing rooms as Ajax began to dominate a more reserved Maritzburg side.

If the first half was mostly United, the second was all Ajax as keeper and skipper Shu-Aib Walters was kept busy along with defenders Ghana international Mohammed Awal and Mario Booysen.

Parity was restored and the relegation-threatened Urban Warriors breathed a sigh of relief when Khenyeza found himself unmarked near the far post after a shot from Lebogang Manyana on the left was parried into the former Kaizer Chiefs man’s path on 65 minutes.

After scoring, Khenyeza ran behind his team’s technical area and gestured at the crowd before embracing coach Ertugral.

The next couple of minutes saw end-to-end football and either side could have grabbed the winner.

United missed an opportunity to claw themselves back into the top eight while former title contenders Ajax needed three points to push themselves towards safety near the bottom of the table.

When asked by The Witness if he was happy with the result, United coach Ernst Middendorp replied: “Of course not. We wanted to win, but we did not find the second goal.”

With United leading 1-0, Middendorp said, his charges switched off and failed to find a second goal, which would have given them some breathing space.

He added that although they had failed to pick up the full three points on Saturday, there was still a slim chance that they could sneak into the top half of the table with one game remaining.

Next weekend, the Team of Choice travel to Soweto’s Orlando Stadium to take on Orlando Pirates in the final game of the season.

• lunga.biyela@witness.co.za

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