Siphelele Mthembu cancelled out Percy Tau’s first half strike as Mamelodi Sundowns once again stuttered at home.
Sundowns looked to extend their lead at the top of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) table as they locked horns with Free State Stars in an unprecedented top of the table clash on Wednesday evening.
The clash promised excitement galore as Ea Lla Koto had an opportunity of their own to narrow the gap between them and Sundowns. But it wasn’t going to be easy as Stars had not registered a victory against Sundowns since 2011.
Nonetheless, under the mentorship of Luc Eymael, Stars fancied their chances especially with the likes of Mthembu and Sinethemba Jantjie leading the line. But for Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, who was serving the second game of his suspension on the sidelines, it was more of the same as he opted for his tried and tested with the impressive Gaston Sirino his only notable inclusion.
The South American was almost instantly in the thick of things as he gave Sundowns fans exactly what they have become accustomed to seeing from him in his cameo appearances as he set up Tau for the opener in the fifth minute. The 23-year-old showed good composure and killer instinct as he curled the ball into the bottom corner.
The goal seemed to have shocked the away side who were resigned to watching Sundowns control the bulk of possession. But in spite of Sundowns’ quick start, the home side were moving the ball around at a walking pace. This allowed Stars to come back into the game, and Nhlanhla Vilakazi came close to troubling Denis Onyango as his long-range shot flew just over the woodwork.
With 20 minutes played the clash finally came to life as spaces began to open for both teams. But Sundowns were dealt a severe blow when Bangaly Soumahoro was forced off with an injury. This though, did not damper Sundowns’ spirits and they should have doubled their lead just before the half hour mark. Khama Billiat showed amazing skill and technique before providing Brockie with a sensational pass, only for the New Zealand international to miscue his effort with only the keeper to beat.
It was turning into a frustrating evening for Brockie as minutes later he was again denied, but this time by a fantastic diving save by Badra Ali Sangare. While Sundowns looked dangerous, worryingly for them was the freedom that Stars were enjoying on the right-hand side but luckily for Sundowns, the Stars attacker could only send his header straight down the throat of Onyango.
The second half immediately saw Stars look for the equaliser. Mthembu once again exposed Sundowns’ defensive frailties down the right, but he could only fire his shot into the side netting. Stars’ added attacking impetus would eventually pay off as Mthembu got a deserved equaliser after a goalmouth scramble in the 53rd minute.
The goal created a nervy final half hour, and Stars certainly were not taking their foot off the paddle as Eymael brought on Belgium attacker Maxime Cosse. In response assistant coach Manqoba Mngqithi withdrew a tiring Sirino in favour of a winger in Aubrey Ngoma.
This injected some much-needed creativity into the Sundowns attack, and Sangare was again called into action as he made yet another solid stop to deny Tiyani Mabunda’s thunderous effort from outside the area. The Ivorian shot-stopper was putting in a real shift as he then denied Tebogo Langerman with just over 20 minutes to go.
Sundowns were giving it a real go in search of the decisive goal, and in a final throw of the proverbial dice threw on Themba Zwane. But the change would do little to change Sundowns fortunes around.
Meanwhile, with the final whistle looming, Stars may have considered themselves as being aggrieved after their attacker looked to have been brought down by Onyango, but the referee waived play on. Stars though, walked away from Tshwane with a solitary point and kept their unlikely title aspirations alive.