Absa Premiership

Sundowns fail to break down Highlands Park

Ricardo Nascimento (Gallo Images)
Ricardo Nascimento (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Mamelodi Sundowns dropped more points in the early stages of the new season after being held to a goalless draw by Highlands Park at Loftus Versfeld on Wednesday.

As it happened: Mamelodi Sundowns v Highlands Park

Pitso Mosimane's side played almost the entire second half with just 10 men following the dismissal of Ricardo Nascimento in the 51st minute.

The defending Premiership champions came close to scoring, but Junior Sibande was outstanding in defence for the Lions of the North and made a goal-saving clearance in the second half to earn his team a share of the spoils.

Mamelodi Sundowns dominated proceedings in Tshwane, although Highlands Park were working incredibly hard to deny them space.

The Brazilians were asking questions as early as the opening minute when Jeremy Brockie latched onto Jose Meza's knockdown header and went to ground under contact from Sello Motsepe inside the area, but the referee waved away the New Zealand striker's appeals for a penalty.

The slick surface made conditions tricky, and Hlompho Kekana slipped as he lined up a shot from distance on four minutes after receiving a corner in space outside the area, with the ball sailing high over the target.

Owen Da Gama's troops were defending well in the first half, though, with Sibande making two timely challenges inside the opening 15 minutes to deny shooting opportunities for Meza and Leandro Sirino.

Kekana had another sniff at goal in the 19th minute, but the Sundowns skipper got under the ball from range to clear the crossbar.

Motsepe was alert to the danger on 35 minutes as he cleared Sirino's cross from the right ahead of Brockie at the back post, while the defender made another crucial interception to prevent the bearded hitman from connecting with Meza's cutback nine minutes later.

The visitors were presented with two chances moments later as Lindokuhle Mbatha dragged a left-footed shot wide of the right post from 20 yards out on the right, before Sabelo Nyembe blazed over from eight yards out after Wayne Arendse gave the ball away inside his own area.

The Lions of the North threatened again early after the restart when Mothobi Mvala nips in between two defenders to steer a corner wide at the near post.

Masandawana were soon on the attack and Sirino fired wide of the near post from 22 yards out after cutting inside from the left on 49 minutes.

However, the hosts suffered a setback two minutes later when Nascimento was sent off for dissent, having just picked up a yellow card for a foul. The referee was dishing out cards right, left and centre as the tackles came flying in from both sets of players.

Arendse thought he had broken the deadlock on 73 minutes when he got on the end of Sirino's cross from the left, but Sibande made a superb clearance on the line to keep out his header.

Toni Silva caused problems for the opposition in the 82nd minute when he beat his marker on the right and advanced into the box, but the substitute could only hit the side-netting from a tight angle.

Ricardo Versuur looked to steal victory for Highlands Park in the final minute after cutting inside from the left, although his effort flew wide of the near post from 20 yards out.