Strikes by Mosa Lebusa and Themba Zwane saw Mamelodi Sundowns claim another win over Bloemfontein Celtic with a 2-1 league win on Wednesday.
Sundowns looked to return to winning ways in the PSL after back-to-back draws against Chippa United and Cape Town City and were full of confidence after a resounding 4-0 win in the Caf Champions League against Otoho d’Oyo.
Brazilians coach Pitso Mosimane was forced into a number of changes ahead of kick-off.
While Hlompho Kekana returned to the starting XI after missing the Champions League game through suspension, most notably, Rivaldo Coetzee missed out with injury. He joined the likes of Thapelo Morena, Anthony Laffor and Oupa Manyisa on the nursing table.
This saw Sammy Seabi picked ahead of Andile Jali although the former Orlando Pirates midfielder enjoyed a stellar performance on the weekend, and Seabi bossed the midfield battle for most of the game as he broke down the play.
While Sundowns boasted a dominant record ahead of the game having won 21 of the previous meetings, it was Celtic who looked confident moving the ball around with ease and giving the defensive partnership of Motjeka Madisha and Lebusa something to think about.
With the trio of Ndumiso Mabena, Menzi Masuku and Harris Tchilimbou upfront, Celtic had an abundance of experience and talent to trouble Sundowns.
Mabena, in particular, was the first to test Denis Onyango with a stinging cross but the effort was comfortably cut out by the Ugandan.
Sundowns have been relatively quick starters this season having scored 50% of their goals within the first half-hour of their league games.
However, they were not completely up to scratch this time around and it took 15 minutes before they came close to testing Celtic keeper Mondli Mpoto, who was standing in for the injured Jackson Mabokgwane.
Moments later Celtic’s resistance was eventually breached. With 18 minutes played, Kekana was again instrumental in a Sundowns goal. A long-range effort from Kekana with the outside of the boot rifled against the woodwork before Lebusa squeezed the rebound past a helpless Mpoto.
It was the defender’s second goal against Celtic this season as he was also on target in the 3-1 MTN8 win over Siwelele.
The goal stunned some Celtic supporters who were in full voice at Petrus Molemela Stadium.
But Celtic, to their credit, did not give up without a fight and showed why they were unbeaten in their last two league games.
At the other end, Sundowns’ threat was always there particularly on the counter-attack with Gaston Sirino and Themba Zwane looking to pounce, and just before the break, Mpoto came up with a fantastic save to deny Lebohang Maboe and ensured his side went into the break only a goal behind.
With the resumption of the second half, Mosimane would have wanted his side to kill off the game early considering their past woes, and almost immediately they doubled their advantage after the restart.
Kekana was the man who was brought down by Tshepo Rikhotso in the box and Zwane stepped up to put the resultant penalty past Mpoto for his second league goal of the season.
The goal meant Celtic had no choice but to press in search of a goal to narrow the deficit and this left them vulnerable on the break.
Perhaps Sibusiso Vilakazi should have done better with his effort when he was played through on goal after the hour mark, but he sent his effort well over the crossbar – and it was ultimately his last contribution before being withdrawn for Jali.
Mosimane looked to close the midfield with Jali's introduction and the move worked as Celtic struggled to control the ball in the middle of the park.
Rather it was Sundowns who came closest to another goal with just over 15 minutes to play.
Once again, Mpoto came to Celtic’s rescue as he pushed Zwane’s effort over the bar from range.
With time running out, Celtic created a few nervy moments and were rewarded for their tenacity when Jali was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the box with less than five minutes remaining on the clock.
Motebang Sera, who came on as a substitute, showed nerves of steel as he put the ball calmly into the net which made for a nervy last few minutes which Sundowns successfully rode out to claim all three points.