Screw turns on luckless United

2010-12-18 00:00

IF Maritzburg United and their coach, Ernst Middendorp, were under pressure going into last night’s game, then that has only doubled following last night’s 2-0 home defeat to Free State Stars at Harry Gwala Stadium.

United have only themselves to blame for the defeat. Question marks over certain players’ commitment have been raised in the past week, but, predictably, last night that just was not the problem.

United conceded an early goal by Mxolisi Gumede in the first minute that put the home side under pressure. But the home team produced one of their best attacking displays of the season in the rest of the first half — and seven golden scoring chances, all of which came to zero.

Stars defended superbly in the second half, and of course wrapped up the game with a late penalty by goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, capping a superb display between the posts for the Zambian.

It matters to some extent that United were by far the better team on the night, but somehow still lost. But playing good football and losing, particularly in home games against mid-table opposition, is just not good enough.

Before last night the United management wanted eight points from their next five games. That task has now become all the more difficult.

The mistakes made last night were probably the result of the pressure of the team’s league position. The team’s performance, apart from finishing, only served to emphasise that United have the players and should never be in a position of having just seven points from 11 games.

Suddenly the prospect of a nightmare relegation battle no longer seems that far-fetched for a team that should be in mid-table.

Only United, and to an extent Mweene, can know how the home team went in to the break a goal down instead of a plethora to the good.

Stars’ opener was a good one. Midlfielder Gumede might have had a little too much space to tee up his shot, but the finish was a crisp one.

After that Maritzburg laid siege to the Stars goal. Rudolf Bester in particular seemed able to beat defenders at will and set up chances.

Chances that, somehow, went awry. And not just half-chances, but gilt-edged opportunities, delivered on a platter.

From Kurt Lentjies’s free-kick in the seventh minute defender Byron Hendricks forced a good save from Mweene. In the 13th Bester beat defenders on the right and his cross was blasted over by Lentjies from four metres.

Two minutes later Musa Nyatama scythed through the middle and attempted to finish — Mweene again up to the stop — when Diyo Sibisi was free to the right.

In the 18th Bester feigned to shoot with his right and took the ball onto his left to beat a defender, Mweene again superb in goal.

In the 29th, Hendricks knocked Ngwepe’s free-kick down to Mor Diouf who produced a defender’s finish — wide — when it would have been easier to score.

Makola’s weaving run ended with a shot deflected for a corner, reminding United Stars did still have an attack.

Almost unbelievably, Hendricks’s header in the last minute of the half hit the inside of the upright.

United’s desperation to score saw the home team step up the pace in the second half, with the effect of sacrificing the attacking shape they had shown in the first. Stars, too, packed their defence and worked hard to stem the flow.

If anything it was the visitors who came closest in the half-hour after the break, Makola’s stunning long-range shot producing a save of equal quality from Walters.

By the last quarter Maritzburg were out of ideas. The home team’s chance to win the game had come in the first half, and gone in it too.

Another jinking run by Makola in the 88th minute saw the dangerous attacker clipped in the area by Chilis Madondo, and the referee pointed to the spot. Mweene, already the hero of the evening for Stars in goal, now made his presence felt at the other end by sinking the penalty.

Last night: Ajax Cape Town 0 Mamelodi Sundowns 1, Maritzburg United 0 Free State Stars 2

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