Maritzburg United fight hard for win

2012-10-22 00:00

THEY did it the hardest way possible, but all that matters now is that Maritzburg United have advanced to the quarter-finals of the Telkom Knockout after defeating Moroka Swallows 4-3 in a penalty shootout at Harry Gwala Stadium on Saturday night.

The match had ended goalless after 90 minutes and an additional 30 minutes of extra time, and with the rain saturating the field more and more as the minutes ticked on, conditions became worse.

United coach Ernst Middendorp had opted for a cautious starting lineup that saw him employ two defensive midfielders — Ryan de Jongh and Byrone Hendricks — while Delron Buckley played ahead of them and behind lone striker Cuthbert Malajila.

In a match that didn’t provide many chances for either side, United appeared comfortable in the first half knocking the ball around with relative ease.

With Philani Zulu looking lively on the right of United’s midfield, it was the home side who looked like breaking the deadlock first. Malajila had a couple of half chances, but in a period of about 15 minutes of United dominance, Swallows goalkeeper Greg Etafia was hardly tested.

The visitors were far more in control in the second half of the match, holding on to the ball and stretching the United defence on occasions. But for all of their possession and attacking intent, Swallows were still unable to manufacture any clear-cut chances and United goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters, while under pressure, would have been happy with the little number of saves he was forced to make.

Middendorp withdrew De Jongh and winger Terrance Mandaza in a double change for young Ghanaian Frank Sarfo-Gyamfi and Dutchman Orlando Smeekes in a move that saw Zulu, whose touches had the home fans erupting, move into a more central role.

While Swallows continued to look the more likely to make something happen as the game grew older, United were dangerous on the counterattack with Zulu pulling the strings and releasing Gyamfi and Malajila on several occasions.

In extra time, substitute Smeekes was himself substituted as he pulled up with a thigh strain and natural defender Rheece Evans was brought on to hold up the left side of midfield.

But as the inevitability of a stalemate approached, both sides retreated to ensure that they would not concede, although there was a heart-in-mouth moment for United when Swallows nearly stole the game in the 119th minute, a goal line scramble resulting in Walters just about doing enough to keep the ball out of the goal.

As the weather turned nasty and the penalties began, United fans had their nerves eased when Buckley slotted the first penalty of the night. But when centre back Mohamed Awal skied United’s third penalty, it appeared that it would be the Dube Birds advancing.

With former United winger Felix Obada next up for Swallows, a goal would have all but sunk Maritzburg. But his effort was heroically saved by Walters, who launched himself acrobatically to his right, and when Swallows defender Luvhengo Mungomeni smashed the penalty that would have taken matters to sudden death into the left-hand upright, the party in Pietermaritzburg began.

“I’m so proud of the boys,” said Walters after the game. “This is a very important stepping stone for us.”

Harry Gwala is also the venue for Friday night’s PSL clash between United and Kaizer Chiefs.

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