Going into their penultimate league fixture, Sundowns’ title hopes were resting on a knife’s edge. Despite victory being essential on the night, Masandawana knew that the title was no longer in their hands and would have to rely on the log leaders Bidvest Wits dropping points.
However, Wits defeated Polokwane City 2-0 at the Bidvest Stadium and they clinched their first ever PSL title.
Ahead of kick-off, Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane rang the changes following the Tshwane giant’s draw in their Caf Champions League opener on Saturday. Most notably Percy Tau and Tiyani Mabunda were roped back into the starting line-up for the clash.
Meanwhile, coach Fadlu Davids was hoping to continue the Team of Choice’s recent resurgence. The coach made two changes to the team which earned a point against Platinum Stars in their last outing.
The first half began as an exciting affair as both sides went in search of goals. Maritzburg keeper Virgil Vries had to be alert as he denied Tebogo Langerman from close range a few minutes into the game.
The Brazilians were determined to assert their authority early on and they had a fantastic opportunity through Tau. The youngster broke through the away side’s defence, but a tremendous last ditch tackle by the Maritzburg defender averted the danger.
Although, Sundowns had the better chances in the first half, Maritzburg were not allowing themselves to be overawed and were a constant danger from set pieces. With half an hour played in the clash, Mosimane was left frustrated as his side fell behind from a dead ball situation. Maritzburg defender Brian Onyango profited from a superb Deolin Mekoa corner and powered his header home.
Minutes later, Sundowns looked for the ideal response, but Vries did well to deny Teko Modise’s glancing header. Coach Mosimane was clearly not a happy man as he made a tactical change. withdrawing Bangaly Soumahoro for the experienced Thabo Nthethe.
Maritzburg clearly did their homework on the defending champions as they neutralised the midfield threat of Hlompho Kekana and took their slim advantage into the halftime interval.
The resumption of the second half saw Sundowns go for broke in an effort to rescue their title hopes. The crowd at the Lucas Moripe Stadium were beginning to get agitated as Maritzburg continuously repelled the Sundowns attack.
With just under an hour played, the game became a sloppy affair as injury delays became prevalent. Worrying for Sundowns was that Wits had scored a second goal in their clash against Polokwane City which meant that the Tshwane giants needed to find two unanswered goals.
Sundowns were throwing everything at the Maritzburg defence and Mosimane looked to bolster his side's attack even further as he introduced Yannick Zakri. Minutes later, the Brazilians were dealt yet another blow when Khama Billiat was forced off with an injury, putting the pressure firmly on Mosimane’s side.
With time running out, Sundowns pushed men forward, leaving themselves vulnerable on the break. In the 67th minute, Maritzburg attacker Evans Rusike scored a sensational goal as he effortlessly powered his way past the Sundowns’ defence, before delicately dinking the ball over Kennedy Mweene.
Rusike was proving to be a nuisance on the counter attacker and came close to doubling his tally but his shot went just wide of Mweene’s goal. With nine minutes remaining in the game Kekana forced Vries into a magnificent save. The Namibian parried the Sundowns captain's curling effort over the bar.
Zakri scored a consolation goal as he slotted his effort past Vries, from close range with two minutes left. In stoppage time, the Ivorian grabbed his second of the night, but it was too little to late as Maritzburg confirmed their place in the top eight.