Kukame’s strike earns 10-man United a spirited draw

2008-12-07 00:00

WHEN you’re away from home against tough opponents, up against an inexperienced referee, heavy pitch and searing heat, then reduced to 10 men for the last half-hour at 1-0 down, a 1-1 draw is a quite remarkable result.

Maritzburg United’s gradual improvement in form continued on Saturday with just that scenario as they fought back from a goal down with 10 men to claw a share of the spoils in their Premier Soccer League match against Free State Stars at Goble Park in Bethlehem.

Add that, following the dismissal of Siphiwe Mkhonza in the 62nd minute minute, United goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap pulled off his second match-saving penalty – his first was in the 3-2 victory over Kaizer Chiefs in Chatsworth – and the draw becomes all the more unlikely a result.

In a common anomaly of football, United played better with 10 men than they had with 11.

Throwing caution to the wind and boosted by Gilstrap’s save to keep the game at 1-0, United ran their legs off in the heat and showed superb fighting spirit.

The depleted home team ran Stars ragged for the final half-hour and equalised through Lebohang Kukame’s excellently placed header and first goal of the season in the 81st minute.

United dropped a place to 13th thanks to Thanda Royal Zulu’s 4-1 thrashing of Platinum Stars but maintain their five-point cushion over the bottom two – Bay United and Bloemfontein Celtic – who played to a 1-1 draw in Port Elizabeth yesterday.

“What we did out there after going down to 10 men was absolutely outstanding,” United coach Gordon Igesund said after Saturday’s game. “We defended with three players only, went man-to-man and risked everything. Brice [Aka] ran his socks off, and Elias Ngwepe, Bageta Dikilu, Peter Petersen and Sylla Mbemba were outstanding in defence. Tony Tsabedze ran until he was on his knees.”

Igesund voiced his dissatisfaction at the performance of inexperienced referee Victor Hlungwane.

Replays showed that Dikilu’s challenge on Prince Olomu, which led to Stars’ penalty, was legitimate because the defender won the ball cleanly. United also had a penalty appeal for hand-ball turned down in the first half.

“We deserved more than we got and this wasn’t a fair game today,” Igesund said.

In the first half United played into the hands of their hard-running, direct opponents by knocking up long-balls that were easily dealt with by a solid defence. This fed the home team possession to use in the other direction, and they kept United under pressure for the first 60 minutes.

That pressure paid off in the 36th minute when, after Peter Petersen rose to clear a ball into the area, Thamane Motaung crossed straight back in from the right and James Matola headed in the opening goal.

United had lacked punch at playmaker and introduced Lucky Maselesele for Lynch Pule, but it was Stars who began the half exerting the greater pressure. When Mkhonza, booked earlier for remonstrating with Hlungwane, received his second yellow and was sent off for a foul just outside his own penalty area, the situation appeared dire for United.

Two minutes later the visitors’ fears appeared to be realised when they conceded a penalty, but Diyo Sibisi’s effort was kept out by Gilstrap diving to his right.

With Maselesele and fellow substitute Tico-Tico Bucuane coming more into the game, United equalised when the former’s chip from left midfield was turned in by Kukame.

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