United fail to maintain lead against strong Celtic

2014-03-20 00:00

BLOEMFONTEIN Celtic’s Ernst Middednorp probably left the happier of the two managers as his side salvaged a 1-1 draw against Steve Komphela’s Maritzburg United on a rainy night at Harry Gwala Stadium.

United opened the scoring through Thokozani Sekotlong on 47 minutes before Gabadinho Mhango levelled matters half-an-hour later on a night where it was unusual to see former United boss Middendorp occupying the away bench.

But the air of nostalgia that was expected to form part of the atmosphere at Harry Gwala was extinguished by a new brass band that belted out familiar favourites from the first whistle to the last, and there was little to no resemblance of the Middendorp era as fans sang and danced.

The unfortunate truth was that the brass band was the highlight of what was a poor first half from both sides.

Neither side could take the ascendancy, and goalkeepers Shu-Aib Walters and Patrick Tignyemb were relatively untroubled throughout the opening stanza.

United coach Steve Komphela remained loyal to the players that he chose in the two matches before this, and the only changes from the side that went down 3-1 to AmaZulu on Friday night saw centre-back Mario Booysen in for Robyn Johannes while Orlando Smeekes returned from suspension for Ghana’s Frank Sarfo-Gyamfi.

If there was a shining light for the home side in the first half, it was the intensity shown by striker Smeekes.

On six minutes, the Dutchman used his main strength — pace — to get on the end of what seemed an impossible ball from Jayiya. Tignyemb had come to collect, but Smeekes beat him to it on the edge of the area before getting his shot away towards an open goal from an off-balance position. Tignyemb scrambled back, and the goalkeeper managed to clear the ball off the line.

Just eight minutes later Smeekes might have done better when he mistimed, and completely missed, a diving header from a low Ruben Cloete cross from the left.

Celtic would make Walters work twice in the first half, but both efforts were hit straight at him and from outside of the area as the Booysen brothers (Mario and David) marshalled the United defence with a composure that was absent from the AmaZulu match.

United’s Kurt Lentjies would test Tignyemb with a free-kick from the left that was whipped in towards the far post and appeared to be dipping into the top right corner, but the shot-stopper pulled off a comfortable yet acrobatic save.

The brass band had barely taken their seats for the second half before United were 1-0 up less than two minutes after the restart.

It came unexpectedly, but it was exactly what the game needed as Sekotlong rose above the Celtic defence to head a Jayiya free-kick — that came from the right hand side — into the bottom right corner.

All of a sudden Harry Gwala was alive.

Celtic responded well to the goal, but still their shots were from too far out and Walters remained untested.

United, though, were dangerous on the counter and Smeekes continued to make a nuisance of himself with his strength and speed down the left flank — only his finishing touch letting him down.

Walters was finally stretched on 69 minutes, when Lerato Lamola cracked a close-range shot from inside the area and to the left goal — the United keeper reacting sharply to tip the ball over the bar.

But there was nothing he could do on 77 minutes when Mhango found himself with just an inch of space before knocking the ball forward and then curling it into the bottom left corner to level matters.

Smeekes, so dangerous all night, almost immediately restored United’s lead, but his blasted effort after working so hard to get into a scoreable position once again rocketed over the bar.

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