Now for the top half, says Palmer

2011-05-09 00:00

FOOTBALL lovers in Pietermaritzburg can breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that they will have regular PSL football at Harry Gwala stadium next season after Maritzburg United secured their top-flight status with an impressive 3-1 victory over Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday.

It was United’s last home game of the season and Ian Palmer’s men went into the match with a cup final mentality, knowing that defeat could prove costly in their attempt to stay out of the promotion/relegation zone on the log. As it turns out, United can now travel to Ajax Cape Town on the final day of the season knowing that, regardless of the result, it will be either Vasco Da Gama or Moroka Swallows who will be in danger of being relegated to the NFD next term.

United started the game brightly in front of a sizeable crowd at Harry Gwala, playing with energy and commitment. It was not long before the home fans would have something to celebrate, and when United defender Mor Diouf pounced on an error from Sundowns keeper Wayne Sandilands, after he had failed to deal with a swinging free kick from Kurt Lentjies, to score in the fifth minute, the release of tension from the United bench was clear for all to see.

United refused to sit back and defend and were unlucky not to go two goals up eight minutes later when Gert Schalkwyk was put through for a golden opportunity, only to see his shot squandered.

It was the Brazilians who would threaten next when, against the run of play, a free kick from Bafana ace Katlego Mphela was deflected off the wall, sending keeper Shu-Aib Walters on the wrong foot.

Fortunately for United, the ball would strike the right-hand upright before being cleared to safety.

United resumed the attack with the fit-again Rudolf Bester causing problems for the ‘Downs defence down the left hand side. A shot from just outside the penalty area from Bester himself came close, but Sandilands was equal to the task, saving low to his right.

United’s loan striker on the day and leading scorer in the PSL for the Team of Choice this season, Diyo Sibisi, stamped his mark on the game in emphatic style in the 40th minute. Put through into the box, a speedy Sibisi arrived at the ball before ’Downs defender Eduardo Ferreira. The referee was given little choice but to answer to the screams of the crowd and award the spot kick when Sibisi went to ground. Sibisi claimed the penalty himself and justified his confidence when he sent Sandilands the wrong way — smashing the ball into the top left corner to put United 2 – 0 up.

It was more of the same after the break and the United midfield began to get the ball behind the Sundowns defence even more regularly.

After an impressive run from Schalkwyk in the 53rd minute that saw him round Sandilands, it was Bester who marked his return to the side by finishing off the move with a low and firm shot into an empty net to all but seal the game for United.

At 3-0, the game was all but over. Sundowns were able to pull one back through Ferreira in the 62nd minute, but it was too little too late for the Brazilians who have now suffered defeat in their last two visits to Pietermaritzburg.

Palmer was satisfied with the performance, and praised the likes of Kurt Lentjies, Gert Schalkwyk and Rudolf Bester in midfield. “This is how I know Maritzburg United can play; the boys knew what was at stake and gave a fantastic performance,” said United’s boss. “It is a fantastic result and we can go to Ajax on the last day of the season knowing that we achieved what we set out to achieve.”

Palmer pledged his commitment to United for next season. He said he believes that the side have the potential to finish in the top half of the table. “We need to stop being a side that is always fighting relegation and we have the quality to do that,” said Palmer. “We would like to keep the core of our side for next season, maybe bring in a couple of new faces, and we can challenge for a top half finish.”

United travel to Cape Town on May 21 for their last league game of the season against Ajax.

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