Thanda, Santos draw, but Hammarsdale the winner

2008-05-11 00:00

Much of what took place at Mpumalanga Stadium in Hammarsdale yesterday seemed bizarrely out of place.

Thanda Royal Zulu made life difficult for themselves in their relegation battle and Santos blew any chance of winning the title, but Hammarsdale was the winner of the 1-1 Premier Soccer League draw.

In the semi-rural setting, surrounded by the well-spread township of Hammarsdale on the outskirts of the Valley of a Thousand Hills, the presence of the relatively modern, newly-upgraded stadium alone seemed strangely foreign. Throw in the Swedish-owned team that will now call the ground their home, along with their coaching staff from that country, an Icelandic goalkeeper and a big Ivorian striker, and it all seemed incongruous.

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, who arrived, naturally, in his motorised cavalcade, sat in the stands, as did Thanda’s technical advisor until the end of the season, former Mamelodi Sundowns boss Gordon Igesund.

Igesund was joined in the VIP box by the coaching staff he has been advising, with both Thanda head coach Roger Palmgren and assistant Johann Eriksson currently suspended.

They communicated with team manager Thabani Gumede on the bench via cellphone, to add to the surreal nature of the game. Somehow though, it all worked. Well, almost.

The first PSL match to be held at the recently renovated stadium drew in a crowd of more than 5 000. This is by far the most home supporters Thanda have played in front of this season, and it must have been a refreshing experience for their players, who put in a committed performance, but were unable to overcome uncomplicated, effective Santos.

The Capetonians, too, will be bitterly disappointed at the result, which effectively ends their outside chance of winning the league title. With two games to go, Santos are six points behind leaders SuperSport United, who regained the PSL lead with a 4-2 victory over Moroka Swallows at the Super Stadium in Atteridgeville on Saturday night.

Striker Katlego Mashego scored all the home team’s goals.

Santos took the lead in the fourth minute when, after Japie Motale brought down forward Romano Scott in the area, striker Eleazar Rodgers stepped up to slot home to the right of goalkeeper Arni Arason.

Thanda had two good chances to equalise within the first 20 minutes when the ball fell to Ivorian striker Serge Djiehoua and winger Felix Obada in good positions in the box, with the former shooting straight at Santos keeper Wayne Roberts and the latter wide.

After that, Santos, whose gameplan is to soak up pressure with five defenders and take the direct route to hard runners such as Scott, Rodgers and Ryan Chapman, closed up shop. With just a one-goal advantage it was a dangerous tactic, but effectively applied.

The law of averages, though, was that Thanda must break through, which they did when Djiehoua was fed into the area by Bernard Parker in the 71st minute, and slid the ball past Roberts to open the game up again.

Ten minutes later, Obada missed substitute Scara Ngobese’s ball across goal. Had the Nigerian scored, Thanda would have been sitting a pretty five points clear of second-last Black Leopards, who drew 1-1 with Lamontville Golden Arrows on Saturday.

Saturday: Supersport United 4 Moroka Swallows 2, Black Leopards 0 Lamontville Golden Arrows 0, Kaizer Chiefs 1 Orlando Pirates 0

Yesterday: Thanda Royal Zulu 1 Santos 1, Bloemfontein Celtic 2 Wits University 0

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