In what was seen as a rehearsal for the Telkom Knockout final next weekend, Mamelodi Sundowns drew first blood with a strong performance in Bloemfontein
Mamelodi Sundowns claimed an important 1-0 away win over Bloemfontein Celtic at the Free State Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Richard Henyekane controlled and finished with aplomb in the 36th minute, his strike proving to be the winner for the Brazilians. Despite some late pressure from Siwelele, Sundown were able to hang on for a vital victory.
Both sides ringed the changes before kick-off, with the Telkom Knockout final obviously influencing the coaches’ choice of starting line-ups.
Clinton Larsen selected a side consisting of many players who were victorious in the Macufe Cup against Kaizer Chiefs earlier this season, with Ithumeleng Duiker making his first start of the season.
Sundowns, who started the game at the bottom of the PSL log, followed suit with seven changes in their side with injuries hampering key players such as Teko Modise and a number of usual starters being rested for the Telkom Knockout final on December 1st.
The Free State Stadium has been known as the “House of Pain” and the home supporters were in good voice during the opening stages of the encounter despite a rather tepid start from both sides.
Celtic created the first opportunity of the match in the 20th minute when Vuyane Ntanga was released in the box by an educated through-ball from Mduduzi Nyanda. Ntanga forced Wayne Sandilands into a save with a low shot which lacked sufficient power to cause any real problems for the in-form shot-stopper.
Sundowns responded with a left footed drive from Samuel Julies, which Patrick Tignyemb struggled to hang on to, almost spilling the ball into the path of looming Sundowns’ strikers.
A game which had suffered from a lack of early action suddenly sprang to life when Richard Henyekane received a long ball from Julies with superb control just outside the area. His first touch put the ball into space and he provided a clinical finish which found the bottom right corner of the net.
Sundowns almost added to their goal tally, when great interplay between Manqele and Kekana resulted in a chance for the Brazilians. Kekana fed a superb diagonal ball through to Manqele whose low drive was cleanly saved by Patrick Tignyemb, when a return pass to Kekana may have made it 2-0 to Sundowns.
Sundowns finished the first half in the lead, with a vital three points on the line for the league strugglers.
Celtic came out firing in the second period looking to find the equaliser, but Sundowns did not go into their shell with the impressive Samuel Julies still proving to be threatening with some notable bursts of pace.
In a move to trouble Sundowns’ defence, Larsen brought on Lennox Bacela and super-sub Lerato Manzini in the 60th minute. It almost paid dividends seconds after the switch, as Manzini set up his illustrious teammate but Bacela could not find the target.
Siwelele’s fans tried to spur on their side with fantastic support and Sundowns slim lead was certainly under threat as the game entered its final 20 minutes. In one last throw of the dice Larsen brought on Joel Mogorosi to find the all important equaliser.
A bursting run into the box from the winger almost created a chance for Celtic in the dying minutes as the home side piled on the pressure in the dying embers of the game, searching for yet another late show.
But it was not to be for Siwelele, as Sundowns were able to close out the game for a hard-fought 1-0 win which brings them level on points with Chippa United at the foot of the table. Celtic remain mid-table, level on points with Wits in 8th place.