A brace by substitute Victor Letsoalo and a Ndumiso Mabhena strike helped Bloemfontein Celtic storm into the Nedbank Cup final following a 3-0 win over 10-man Baroka FC at Orlando Stadium on Saturday.
Should Downs make it to the final and then win the Premier Soccer League (PSL) title, Celtic would be guaranteed a Caf Confederation Cup berth next season even if they lose the Nedbank Cup decider.
Mabena gave a good start to coach John Maduka deep into the first half’s injury-time when he capitalised on shambolic defending by Baroka aided by a numerical disadvantage.
It got worse for the Limpopo side seven minutes from time when Chipezeze brought down Mabena inside the box to earn Celtic a penalty which was duly converted by Letsoalo, who later on struck again in stoppage time.
The opening stages of the match saw Celtic appearing the hungrier side with Sifiso Ngobeni’s shooting over the bar three minutes into the contest off a cross from Mabena, who himself narrowly missed the target with a low effort five minutes later.
Baroka goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze was the busier and had to deal with a Tebogo Potsane shot on 11 minutes.
Gerald Phiri’s attempt over the bar was Baroka’s first real chance at goal on 18 minutes. As both sides were starting to gain momentum, Maduka was forced to replace Mpusana Tani with Andile Fikizolo after 21 minutes.
While Celtic were battling to adjust to their early substitution, it was now Baroka tactician Dylan Kerr to tamper with his line-up following a red card to defender Ananias Gebhardt just two minutes after the half-hour mark.
The Namibian was given his marching orders following a reckless challenge on Lucky Baloyi.
It was a big blow that badly exposed Baroka’s defence with Lantshene Phalane twice freely attempting at goal although he missed the target.
As the contest appeared to be headed for a goalless first-half, Mabena beat the half-time whistle with a left-footed shot off a Fikizoko pass deep into injury time to separate the two sides.
More chaotic defending from Baroka including, Chipezeze coming off his line deep into play, could have been Baroka’s undoing but they survived further blemishes in the first stanza.
The second half saw Celtic continuing with the search for a second goal, but Tshediso Patjie tried to respond for Baroka although he shot high over the bar.
After replacing Potsane just before the hour mark, Letsoalo appeared a threat to Baroka with some promising moves and two shots dealt with by Chipezeze.
Letsoalo’s conversion from the penalty spot appeared to have sapped the energy out of Baroka as Celtic made it hard to their opponents to come back.
The sucker punch came from Letsoalo's right foot again as he killed the match as a contest in stoppage time but was beaten to the Man-of-the-match crown by Phalane.