United find their rhythm

2013-03-04 00:00

IN one of the most exhilarating matches that Pietermaritzburg has seen this season, Terrance Mandaza scored two superb goals in the space of three minutes to secure a come-from-behind 2-1 victory for Maritzburg United over Black Leopards at Harry Gwala stadium yesterday.

It was United’s first league win in eight matches and their first fixture at Harry Gwala since December.

Mandaza’s goals came in the 84th and 86th minutes after Nkosiyabo Xakane had put the visitors ahead in the 56th.

With United’s lack of goals plaguing the second half of their campaign so far, coach Ernst Middendorp’s side did absolutely everything right, except score, in a first half that they dominated from start to finish.

Just three minutes into the match Dillon Sheppard blasted a free kick straight at Leopards goalkeeper Ayanda Mtshali, who was unable to hold onto the ball. Philani Zulu, given a rare start on the right of midfield, almost put United ahead, but was a fraction too late in getting to the rebound and Mtshali was spared his blushes.

That set the tone for the remainder of the half, and a vocal crowd grew more frustrated with each wasted opportunity.

Delron Buckley was positioned just behind Mandaza in an attacking midfield role, and the former Bafana Bafana star linked up effectively with Sheppard on more than one occasion.

Mandaza showed a couple of neat first touches to set up chances for himself in the 13th and 19th minutes, but his execution was poor.

Midfield workhorse Michael Morton also got in on the act when he skied an effort from just outside the area before Sheppard, Zulu and Buckley all managed to force saves out of Mtshali. Buckley’s effort in the 36th minute appeared destined for the net, but Mtshali launched himself to his right, pulling off the save of the match.

At the other end of the pitch it was relatively quiet — Middendorp’s now familiar and organised defensive structure keeping Leopards at bay with the exception of one or two nervy moments.

With just a few minutes left in the half, Mandaza held the ball up brilliantly in the area before turning and curling an effort over the right hand corner in a moment that summed up United’s half.

The attacking intent that United had shown in the first half was better handled by Leopards in the early exchanges of the second. The game dropped in pace, and thoughts of yet another goalless display would have started creeping into the minds of Maritzburg fans who have seen it all too often already this season.

And it got worse in the 56th minute when United goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters came off his line to clear a corner, but was unable to make solid enough contact with his fist. The ball was played back into the area where Xakane tapped into an open goal with Walters in no man’s land.

In the last 25 minutes, United found the rhythm they had in the first half, but try as they might they still couldn’t knock down the Leopards defence.

A tactical change saw Middendorp move Zulu into the playmaker’s role from the right wing, where he was replaced by left back Rheece Evans, and Ruben Cloete moved from holding midfield to replace Evans at left back. The move proved a good one, with Evans’s pace down the wing causing problems for the visitors.

Cloete and Mandaza both had fantastic chances to level matters from set pieces when they found themselves unmarked in the box, but their headers were harmless.

But when Morton squandered a rushed shot with Mtshali well off of his line and the empty net beckoning, it appeared that it was not to be United’s day.

That was until Mandaza’s three minutes of magic got underway.

Buckley floated a long ball across to the left hand side of the area where Sheppard did well to make up the ground and head the ball across the face of goal. The subtlest of steps saw Mandaza lose his marker, before an acrobatic volley saw the Zimbabwean smash home the equaliser with his left foot from a completely horizontal position.

With Harry Gwala still in a state of disbelief following the quality of the goal they had just witnessed, Mandaza was at it again just seconds later when he held the ball up before turning and expertly curling another left-footed effort into the top left corner from the edge of the area.

If the United faithful weren’t in hysterics before, they were now. Mandaza’s performance stole the show and sealed a crucial three points for the Team of Choice, who have their first league win of 2013 and a firmer grasp on fifth place on the log.

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